The benefit of discipline

I’ve had various struggles with discipline throughout my life. I wrote before about keeping focus, putting things off, and getting enough sleep.

Discipline requires dedication and decision making. Dedication is necessary for maintaining effort during adversity, and decision making is needed to ensure there is no stalling because of uncertainty. Both dedication and decision making demand a certain degree of belief in why the goal is worth striving for in the first place.

And so we come to meditation.

For over 4 years I have been practicing a serious and demanding meditation technique called Vipassana.

Vipassana is an ancient practice, dating in its current lineage to the teachings of the Buddha, who is said to have rediscovered it on his path to enlightenment.

The practice focuses on the development of equanimity in the face of the complete impermanence of all conditioned phenomena. Continuity of practice is particularly stressed as being needed to develop and maintain a meditator’s mental state.

Specifically, I make an effort to sit in meditation for 2 hours each day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon/evening.

That might sound like a lot to those of you who have trouble finding even a moment to sit down and take a break during the day, and I can attest that it’s not easy. Bringing myself to sit has grown and waned in cycles, but it’s taken a particularly harsh beating during 2006.

My problems began when I found school overpowering me during the Spring. I had taken more classes than I could maintain with a part-time job. I only work 18 hours a week, but the classes are in computer science and the work is a very heavy load. I decided to continue without dropping any courses, and school work eventually became prioritized over everything.

Even still, I couldn’t keep up with my class work. I was unable to complete assignments due to time constraints, and my comprehension suffered greatly.

Needless to say, any social life I had was tanked, and sleep became an afterthought, with many nights just rolling straight into the next day.

During all of this my Vipassana practice was also put under serious strain. I’d shorten my sits, putting them off until it was too late to sit with any mental clarity. Imagine trying to keep a focused mind at 4 am when you have to get up for work in 4 hours (and supposedly sit again)!

I decided to take the summer off from classes and when school came to a close I was relieved.

“Now I can get my meditation practice back together!”

But having a strong practice doesn’t happen overnight and I hadn’t realized just how far I’d let myself slip. I spent the summer going from bad to worse, and what’s worse… I didn’t have any outside obligations to blame! The truth became starkly clear, I wasn’t sitting because my discipline was shot. I had grown into a bad habit of always having something more important to do.

Now, as the summer draws to a close, I find myself struggling to get back on top. I’m starting to build the motivation, but it’s hard to see the benefit when you’re starting out from near scratch again. There are many who spend more than 2 hours a day in meditation precisely because they recognize the greatness of the benefit, and that recognition is key.

Recognition of benefit is the source of belief in the actions we carry out.

At this point, understanding the benefit is more of an intellectual exercise for me. I know meditation is good for me because it makes sense, but that’s a weak position. Foundations built on reasoning often fall prey to uncertainty. I need to build strong discipline out of that reasoning and generate the momentum of experiential wisdom.

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “The benefit of discipline”

  1. kstarr says:

    Nice! Thanks for sharing…I think this one calls for a discussion however after reading about sleep or rather lack of, focus and the benefits of discipline i am going to head off to bed for now as it’s 1:33 a.m.

  2. Kstarr says:

    I can so relate to this one with yoga! And yet sometimes it’s amazing how quickly we can feel some sensation…a shift, directly after becoming more present with our practice. It might be such a subtle or more noticeable sensation…enough to spur on that WILL and DISCIPLINE. One of my teachers always said, it only takes moving 1/4 of an inch back in the direction you want to go. This has helped me at times, to feel a little less overwhelmed. And then other times as you share above the steps back to our path can seem so long, empty and strenuous, without noticeable improvements. I like to think that even when we aren’t feeling them directly, they are happening. Just by showing up, this is a step in itself.

Leave a Reply