Revisiting My Relationship with Discipline

  • by

I had a tough weekend. It should have been a great weekend. I took an afternoon all by myself in a tiny cabin, then I had some close friends joining me for a hike and visioning session. During this session, we encountered a lot of conflict. A good bit of it was driven by me. I raised a lot of flags about misalignment in visions, and I didn’t always – or maybe even rarely – raised those flags from a place of right speech and love.

In reflection on this, I have been trying to determine what put me into the mindset of conflict and why I chose a harsher path toward speaking truth. This is a theme for me over the years. While I work on it with therapy and meditation, it does come up every so often in my interactions, and each time I go into a shame spiral and self-doubt.

Well, as I meditated the past few days, I kept re-hearing the phrase, “Accept things as they are without the tendency we all have to want things to be different.” And, “Encounter the space beneath the turbulence of the full catastrophe of the human condition.” (Jon Kabat Zinn truly is a luminary in the mindfulness practice.)

I realized anew that this is a practice.

We come back to that work repeatedly in yoga and meditation: practice.

Yoga teachers love to use it. But do we really embody it? What does it mean to embody the practice?

We have some guidance in the Yoga Sutras, and that guidance appears again in modern psychology. In the Sutras, we move from the code for outward living toward the code for how we live with ourselves. These are called the Yamas and Niyamas. Discipline appears in the second set of codes, the Niyamas. Specifically, it is called Tapas.

Practicing pranayama once feels great. On a consistent basis, it takes discipline. Yoga Sutra 1.14: Perfection in practice comes when one continues to practice with sincerity and respect for a long period of time without any interruption.

Tapas often translates to austerity or purity. I hear yoga teachers use this phrase to describe the burning sensations we occur in Hatha yoga. Certainly, this can be one example of Tapas. Remaining in Warrior II for 3 minutes takes some Tapas.

But, like all things in yoga, it doesn’t stay on the surface. Tapas translates to self-discipline, or the act of repeatedly doing that which we know must be done but that we rarely want to do. This is the part of yoga few people like to talk about. Being on the path, living an enlightened life, it often looks like doing the dishes three times a day. It often looks like paying bills and filing taxes. It often looks like folding the clothes on repeat.

It also often looks like turning away from some of the feel-good phrases and practices and turning toward the deeper work of simply showing up – again and again – to a sitting meditation that irritates every part of our bodies.

As I continually re-evaluate my own positions and values, I’m realizing anew that Tapas – discipline – is at the core of who I am. And it’s a quality many people won’t find particularly intriguing and certainly not very fun. I have my own inner shame spiral about that. Why can’t I be lighter? Why can’t I embrace something that appeals to many more folks and therefore increase the reach of what I know is a very powerful and important message?

Ultimately, what I’m asking is: why can’t I be more popular?

So, basically, here I am at 39-years-old, mother of two, married for 13 years, a decade into my mindfulness practice and many mortgage payments into therapy, and I’m wondering if I could alter myself to be more popular.

As I drove the girls to school today, I talked to them about my inner conflict. A big part of the conflict is because I didn’t like the way I showed up in a particular interaction. A second, bigger part of the conflict is the shame and concern I was feeling over how it would affect my popularity. The bigger part was the ego bruise.

We talked about repairing the bad interaction. I needed to apologize and take responsibility for my bad behavior. The second part of the repair, though, is inward. It is showing myself some loving-kindness and casting off shame about who I am while also not cherishing myself too deeply.

I am disciplined. I gravitate to the tough spaces, the big questions, and the hard work. At times, this will bring down energy. At times, it is exactly what is needed. I’d love to always employ this power wisely. I won’t. I’m just a human living in the full catastrophe of my experience.