Discipline is necessary in several ways. The first is discipline in your meditation practice. For the last 20+ years, I have meditated every morning after I get up. I have not missed a single day regardless where I was, whether I was traveling, whether I was sick, or whether I overslept. My meditation might be shortened if not as much time is available, but never skipped. Pick a time of day that will work for you regardless what is going on in your life. That’s why I picked first thing in the morning.
Discipline is necessary in the content of your meditation. If you include mantras or affirmations as part of your meditation, they should be chanted every day … not in a way that becomes rote and meaningless but in a way that keeps them fresh, which requires that you be present. Yes, even when meditating, it is totally possible for one not to be present!
Remember that you are trying to change a paradigm, your view of yourself and the world around you, that has been in place for most of your lifetime. Changing that will not happen overnight, or even over the course of several months or a year. You will start seeing a change soon after you start practice, but the path is never ending and will continue for the rest of your life.
Without discipline, you will not be able to ward off the tendency of the mind to say, “I’ve done that. It’s old. There’s no need to keep doing it.” Buddhist practice is most often about focusing on the most basic elements. Even after you’ve been practicing for decades, it’s always necessary to remind oneself to go back to basics … posture, breath, concentration on a point on the floor 4-6 feet in front of you. Don’t forget that even enlightened ones meditate for hours every day. The struggle is that great.
But discipline is not just about meditation. Actually, that’s the easiest part of discipline. The real struggle is implementing your practice throughout the day, It is one thing to be present, at peace, knowing that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is when you’re sitting on your cushion in a quiet, serene space. It is another when you come face to face with all the challenges in life, all the things that push your buttons, and all the distractions.
There are two ways to meet this challenge. The one is to go ever deeper into your self, into your spirituality, reaching an abiding with your faith in your true Buddha nature. The other is the discipline to bring yourself back to the present as often as possible during the course of the day. Because even if you go deeper into your spirituality, every moment that your mind pulls you from being present is a moment where you lose access to your spirituality.
It’s very easy to allow oneself to be pulled into the mind’s grasp or to be distracted. That’a our default way of life; it’s being lazy. It’s a lot of work to constantly be on guard and pull ourselves back to the present.
There is no easy answer regarding how to do this. One answer is to meditate on the positive things that are your self, your true Buddha nature … harmony, love, faith, trust, patience, compassion, forgiveness. When you focus on these as the truth and see as your task reflecting back anything that would disturb this harmony, to imprint itself on you, it is more likely that when such things happen, you will be aware of it arising, stop and say, “no,” and allow the temptation to subside.
The other technique is more mechanical and deals more with the problem of distraction. At one point in my practice years ago, I decided that every hour on the hour I would stop, focus on my breathing, and bring myself back to the present. And it worked. Not only for those moments, but since I was thinking about bringing myself back to the present on the next hour, I tended to be more aware throughout the intervening hours.
But I am human and at some point after a few days I grew tired of this “work.” Purely out of laziness and a lack of discipline I stopped doing this practice.
Recently during a meditation, I again was made aware, as I so often am, how I stray from the spiritual path mostly on “minor” matters, do not react to myself or the world around me in a spiritual way, because I am not present. It’s not that I don’t love myself unconditionally or that I haven’t placed my will and my life in the hands of my true Buddha nature or know that I am secure, etc. It’s that I am not present, and when I’m not present that awareness of self is not available. And that is primarily a function of my being lazy and, in this one regard, lacking the necessary discipline.
All because something is not a matter of sufficient import to raise a red flag or because one just becomes distracted. But as I’ve learned, even small things that pull you away, that pull you back into your habit-energy of thinking about yourself or through your perspective, impact your inner harmony and disturb your peace. Every single thing, no matter how trivial, that disturbs your harmony should raise a red flag.
I do not beat myself up not should you. We are all human beings struggling to find our way back to peace and happiness after a lifetime of samsara caused by our learned experience. All we can do is the best we can. Be as disciplined as you can, and know when you aren’t that one can always commit oneself to be more disciplined. One can always go deeper.