Many people think of discipline as a way of beating oneself or others into shape. It is a way to enforce something. That is certainly one way to think of it, and a way that seems to help some achieve what they want to achieve.

I feel it leaves a lot out though.

You ride roughshod over every other urge and desire, every other need, and simply push yourself beyond pain because pain as some say, is simply weakness leaving the body.

However, if we go back to the roots of the word discipline, we find the word discipulus, which means to follow, which is also the root word for discipline.

To follow?
What or who is being followed?

Ultimately, discipline will lead you from where you are now, to a greater, more expansive and beautiful experience of freedom.

Of course, you can choose to beat and push yourself into this kind of shape, but in my view, the collateral damage to oneself and others could be substantial. And mostly it ends up in a kind of bypassing, where all we are doing is dominating our beingness with will power, ignoring the subtle messages of the heart and the role of connection and inseparability.

This kind of discipline usually requires us to believe we are separate, independent and that we can win whatever we’re trying to dominate. Such separatist discipline is not helpful or sustainable, even if it can sometimes be a starting point – it was for me!

So, what compels me to sustain my practice – these 40 plus years later?

Because of the way it makes me feel – I feel more constant, more connected, more expansive and capable of dealing with my shadows in a creative and intelligent way. I practice because it makes life better, my relationships better – my world better.

To the outside observer it can look like I am pushing myself at times, yet inside I feel a heart at peace, a sense of spacious presence in what I am doing, and I know in my body that what I am doing is the right thing for me.

Discipline is an intrinsic following of the heart. When we can listen intently to our body, we are more able to notice arising obstacles. We can work with them with kindness and compassion, with understanding and know that these obstacles were born as protection mechanisms – coping strategies. We can gently release them back into the ‘unborn’ and ‘unmanifest’ – back to the nothingness from where they first arose.

All our obstacles and distractions are available to us as teachers, we learn how we try to protect ourselves from success, from failure, from visibility, from connection, from whatever has elicited fear in us as children.

It is in the seeing and feeling of these obstacles that we resolve their energies of defence, craving and indifference.

Discipline is not blind or stupid repetition, it is the recreation of a method that every time it is explored and practised, it is approached with presence and curiosity, with the ‘beginners mind’. Approached in this way, discipline yields rich new fruit, rather than just sweat, blood and tears.

That said, there are times when the power of a yang approach is just what our body commands, so we follow it. We do that to our very best ability. We go to sweat, blood and tears if that serves us. But how do we know what is being called for?

Because through discipline we have learnt to listen and instinctively know.

Many practices are done with a goal in mind. We may feel content when we have achieved this goal. Whilst such goal oriented practices serve as the fuel for discipline, they are not real discipline. Real discipline has no goal and no hope at the end of the process.

Discipline is hungry for vastness, without even really seeing what it is. We are following a trail of crumbs in the darkness. Yet we get out of bed and do it anyway, because every time we have explored it, we have learnt, we have grown, we have discovered new terrain of the mind, heart, body and spirit.

Engaged in life, deepening into life, whether laughing or crying, we dive deep into the unknown.
This is following. And this is discipline.

What else does discipline look and feel like?
How does it manifest in your life?
Does it make your life better, more peaceful and more content?

Practice listening deeply to your heart, your gut – and hear what they say. What can you follow that will give you what you need?

I’m intrigued!

Thoughts welcome – comment here or email me hello@christophergladwell.com