On Discipline

For months now I’ve had a print out taped to the wall in front of my desk that reads, “Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

This has been a gentle reminder to me in those moments when I’m prone to take the short view rather than the long, or put more plainly: when I get lazy. I’ve never been a particularly ambitious person. I don’t seek fame or fortune – what I want most is to be healthy and happy. And yet there are times when I’d rather sit on the couch with another glass of wine and an episode of Mr. Robot, than do my evening yoga and read a book with a cup of tea. In the short-term, this makes me very happy. But the practice is not participating in my long-term desire, which I feel in spades when I wake up the next day, my bones cracking, my back stiff and with dark circles under my eyes. This does not feel healthy nor make me happy.

What I often want now is to tune out, to disconnect from my body and mind. I have come to define this as relaxing.

What I want most is quite the opposite. What I want most is to feel fully tuned in and connected to both my body and my mind, and to have that be relaxing. What I want most is to have this state of relaxation not be something I seek as a reprieve from my normal state, but rather that it be my normal state.

In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche tells us that the Tibetan term for discipline is tsul trim.

Tsul means “appropriate or just”, and trim means “rule” or “way”. So discipline is to do what is appropriate or just; that is, in an excessively complicated age, to simplify our lives.”

I much prefer thinking about discipline as simplifying than as having to choose. It takes the focus away from wanting, and brings it back to a state of being.

I’m starting to think of this need to choose, of this arrival at a moment where our short-term impulse supersedes our long-term view, as the difference between curative and preventive medicine. How did I get myself into a state of needing this absolute disconnect?

As I enter my 43rd year, I continue to simplify my life. And the more I do, the more I realize that simplifying and minimalism don’t stop at material things or even daily routines and habits. It is discipline. It is a way of life that extends into my very thought process. It is the opposite of burdening myself with choice or want. So I will just keep simplifying, and free myself from having to choose between a state of constant unrest that requires constant reprieve, and a state of purposeful, mindful being.