On a day sometime in the year 1996, I decided to meditate. At 19 years of age I was reading my first spiritual book, Shambala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior. In its pages I found a simple meditation technique, which focused on observing breath and thought. The author advised practicing the technique daily. I simply did as the book said and practiced daily. From that day in 1996, up until now, in 2013, I haven’t missed a day of meditation. And I have seen the weather of my life change from mildly overcast with chances of rain to bright and sunny skies with light and pleasant breezes.
Discipline has always come easily to me. One day in my teens my dad told me to store my bicycle in the shed after coming home from school. I remember doing it promptly and following suit every day since. My sister however couldn’t get her head around it. It led to the same daily ritual – my father would remind her to put the bike away and my sister would reply, “In a minute!” Mild irritation often ensued from both ends. In the same vein my sister would forget to put the lid back on the toothpaste. She would also forget to dry the bathroom floor after taking a shower, no matter how many times I pleaded with her. We got along swell, but in the discipline field my sister and I were at opposite ends of the spectrum. This made me realize that discipline does not come naturally to everyone.
When I became a runner, discipline was a great help. I never had any qualms about going out the door for my daily run. Then when I became a student of Sri Chinmoy and learned that he advised his students to meditate at 6 a.m., I set my alarm at 5:45 and became an early riser from that day on. My body and mind always seemed to obey the plans I laid out for them, without much protesting. I think they realized that it was the price we had to pay for satisfaction, for after my meditation and after my run I always felt happy. Why others hadn’t come to the same conclusion was a mystery to me.
In one of his aphorisms Sri Chinmoy writes, “My best qualities are those that I am totally unaware of.” All of us have good qualities ingrained in our nature from birth. Since we grow up with them not knowing any different, there is a tendency to take them for granted.
For a long time I took my discipline for granted. But when I started my spiritual life I began to realize my good fortune. I saw others struggling with early morning meditation, daily prayers, running to stay fit and all those good things we tried to mix into our daily routines to make spiritual progress and become happier people. Later, when I started giving meditation classes for the public, I saw how difficult it was for people to meditate regularly. I started to realize that discipline is not something common, but a rare and precious thing, something to treasure and be grateful for.
What is the difference between a good habit and a bad habit? The obvious difference is that bad habits make us miserable and good habits give us joy and satisfaction. But there is also a subtler one. Bad habits are easy to start, easy to continue and difficult to give up. Good habits, however, are difficult to start, difficult to continue and easy to give up. Compare smoking to meditation and you see that this is true. When you follow this simple but very true statement to its logical conclusion, you see that the deciding factor is discipline. Bad habits don’t require any of it. Good habits do.
Discipline is the foundation for a happy life, for it helps us to build and sustain good habits – things like regular meditation, daily exercise and a healthy diet. Discipline is the philosopher’s stone that can change the lead of human nature into the gold of the divine consciousness. Sri Chinmoy writes, “If I have to choose which quality is most important and fulfilling at the beginning of the spiritual life, then I must say that it is self-discipline. Our mind is a victim to doubt, worries, anxieties and so forth. A disciplined life will not have the same fate. It will have joy and peace.”
How to acquire discipline? First of all, it may be useful to realize that we are already disciplined to a certain extent. We all get up every morning, even though our body may want to sleep longer. We go to work or school, even though our mind sometimes would prefer to stay home. We cook dinner, brush our teeth, do our homework, fill out tax papers, buy birthday gifts, clean our house, and perform countless tasks and duties that require a certain degree of discipline. So discipline is not something foreign to us. It is already there.
But what is most important is to value your goal. Whether that goal is peace of mind or a clean kitchen, if you want it hard enough, discipline will come automatically. An athlete dreaming of an Olympic gold medal doesn’t have to force himself to train. His dream gives him the necessary strength to discipline himself. So write down your goal on a piece of paper and hang it somewhere where you can easily see it. If the goal is peace, then the means to achieving peace is daily meditation. If you really need peace, then you will meditate daily. There is no magic formula involved, other than two simple three-word sentences: “Just Do It” and “Never Give Up.” If you stick to these two mottos, you have uncovered the secret to discipline. And when discipline is born, the fulfillment of your life’s dreams is only a matter of time.
Patience is needed. Sri Chinmoy writes, “A disciplined life comes from constant practice. What does practice mean? Practice means patience, patience-light. Slowly, steadily, we have to discipline our life. If we are in a hurry, we can never discipline our life.” You can’t change overnight. So be kind to yourself without being indulgent, and give yourself time.
You may think this all sounds easy coming from someone who has never had to work for discipline. True, discipline was the silver spoon in my mouth. But there are many people not innately blessed with discipline who have earned it through their own sincere efforts. They have changed their lives for the better. It can most certainly be done. Why not give it a try?