Discipline: finding fulfilment

Discipline: finding fulfilment
Discipline is not something terrible, it's what we need to shape our life.

In an Instagram Live this week, Sara and I announced we’d be running a one-month course: Bring Your Intentions to Life. Each of us has something in life that we’d like to focus on more. In this course we’ll make that thing our intention and give it our attention, and we hope that by the end of the month you’ll have cultivated a habit, reached a goal or grown in the way you’ve aimed for.

For me, one of the major benefits of doing this work as part of a group is that our combined energy helps me focus and helps me be more disciplined. I used this word “discipline” in the Instagram Live and as I said the word, I felt a concern arise in case it was off-putting to people.

Discipline is a word that is unappealing to many, and probably for good reason – its first uses in the 13th century were to do with punishment and it still carries this link. But it is also associated with study, learning and how we shape and control our behaviour. In fact, it comes from the Latin discipulus which meant pupil.

In our society, we tend to value being free from commitment and free to do as we please. But the truth is that what gives us meaning and what makes our lives worthwhile is the opposite – it is when we commit to something (even short-term), practice it, become competent at it, and let it shape us that we feel fulfilled. If I look at my own life, anything that has been worth doing, that has given me a profound sense of achievement and success, has required discipline and commitment.

Yoga is a great example of all of this. We make a commitment to it, whether that is to practice daily for five minutes, or once a week in a class. It is a discipline and through repeated practice over time we become proficient at it; we know how to move our body in a particular way, how to breathe, how to focus the mind and be present. We have disciplined our body and mind into behaving as we want them to. We then reap the benefits. For example, yoga has given me the ability to pause, the ability to come back to my breath in times of stress and worry because I’ve done it so often in moments of calm.

Discipline doesn’t have to be rigid or strict, nor is it a form of punishment. Most people who stick with yoga do so because they enjoy it. Nor does discipline mean committing every moment of your time to something, rather it just means a commitment to practice regularly and consistently.

It’s also true that focusing time on one thing does mean you have less time for others, and you might miss out on things. Doing my master’s meant every minute of my time during the semesters was scheduled – if I wasn’t teaching yoga and earning a living, I was reading papers and writing essays. Was it hard – sometimes. Was it stressful – sometimes. Was it worth it – damn right, because it was meaningful to me and I achieved what I wanted to achieve. I don’t regret a single moment I spent learning about humanity, and to be perfectly honest, I simply don’t remember the things I missed out on. What I gained was far more important and has enhanced my life. I was less free, but far more fulfilled.

Each of us is going to get older – it’s guaranteed. So do you want to get older having seen a thousand more memes on social media, or having spent that time slowly and patiently working towards the life you want, the person you wish to be, the skill you wish to craft? The time will pass, so how will you fill it?

I’m reminded of this poem by Rilke:

And you wait. You wait for the one thing
that will change your life,
make it more than it is—
something wonderful, exceptional,
stones awakening, depths opening to you.

In the dusky bookstalls
old books glimmer gold and brown.
You think of lands you journeyed through,
of paintings and a dress once worn
by a woman you never found again.

And suddenly you know: that was enough.
You rise and there appears before you
in all its longings and hesitations
the shape of what you lived.