March 20, 2012

Desire & Discipline: How These Dirty Words Can Transform Your Practice.

(Photo: Corbis)

Discipline imposed from the outside eventually defeats when it is not matched by desire from within.

~Dawson Trotman

Aware of my twenty-year yoga and meditation practice, students occasionally remark on my “obvious discipline.” Inevitably, this makes me chuckle. Can the desperation that drove me to my mat and cushion be considered discipline?

For the first few years of my practice following a crushing car accident, I remained tolerably anesthetized by the mere wonder of my survival and practiced largely for physical reasons. When the wonder wore off, the ache of my distressed psyche penetrated deeper than the throb in my bones. I fiercely desired my reality to be other than it was, even if only to feel differently.

The intensity of my suffering necessitated a dogged quest for relief; yoga and meditation provided not only relief, but inner stillness and unforeseen, wordless understanding.  Might this motivation to continue the practice be more appropriately classified as desire, rather than discipline?

Discipline in America is a dirty word.We already have to adhere to societal edicts of self-sacrifice and tangible productivity, and now we have to apply discipline for a practice?

Work deadlines pile up. The dog has to be walked. The kids have soccer. The bills have to be paid. Surely a practice is self-indulgent and ludicrously lofty.

Desire also carries stigma in our culture and nowhere more intensely than in religious and spiritual communities. Desire is the culprit behind overeating, over-sexing and over-achieving. Desire fuels avarice and violence. Yet have we seen discipline and desire in an accurate light?

In Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali tells us, “For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom, it sits near them, waiting.” As my yoga and meditation practice matures, the desire for more understanding prods me into more practice. In this case, desire is an asset rather than a liability.

On days when my desire wanes and the benefits for following through are temporarily forgotten, discipline filled in the gaps. The root of the word discipline is disciple, and we are all disciples of something. The question is, are we disciples of our conditioning or our most central truth?

With practice, I have come to see discipline as surrender to expansive thinking and enhanced presence no matter what chaos is stirring. I have become increasingly skilled at seeing through self-concepts that are utterly unworkable and I’m able to access means to change them. Philosopher Paul Brunton eloquently describes this process in his own practice[1] :

“As his mind becomes purer and his emotions come under control, his thoughts become clearer and his instincts truer. As he learns to live more and more in harmony with his higher Self, his body’s natural intuition becomes active of itself. The result is that false desires and unnatural instincts which have been imposed upon it by others or by himself will become weaker and weaker…”

The material world functions on unquestioning loyalty but fails to offer honest satisfaction in return. Through the practice of pratyahara, an intentional turning within, we can turn down the volume of culture’s pressures and tune into the Self, where authentic satisfaction is attainable.

Discipline becomes achievable only once the Desire for self-upliftment has been established, and together, they’ll take the hand of anyone willing and ready to walk the path.

[1] Body (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton), Vol. 4, Part 2, p.55, v. 143



Editor: Andrea B.


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