Meditation and Self-Discipline

“If you practice zazen regularly, you get into the habit of it; as far as I personally am concerned, for example, my brain works the same way in everyday life as it does during zazen. Zazen early in the morning influences the rest of your day and you learn to react to everything that happens with the same steady frame of mind.” —Taisen Deshimaru

If I don’t meditate for a few days I find myself more prone to silly angry outbursts that end up creating extra problems for myself instead of solving pre-existent ones. Anger comes from the same impulse that causes us to eat too much, drink too much, talk too much, gossip, or feel too proud. Basically, it comes from a place of self-indulgence. It comes from mindless mind. The ego left unchecked will create a life of strife and craziness.

For me, meditation is the most disciplined activity there is— even more than strenuous exercise, writing or work. Sometimes sitting through the full 30 minute or hour session feels nearly impossible. Physically, it’s simple as can be. Still, I find it incredible how much resistance the mind will throw up in defense of its own indulgence. The moments in which meditation feels impossible are the most important moments to step back, return to the breath, and stick with it. These are our internal initiation tests. Can you handle making peace with your own mind? Are you willing to access the strength required to give yourself that gift?

When you decide to end your sitting early, that’s indulgence. When you yell at your loved ones or ridicule them for no reason, that’s indulgence. When you beat yourself up for not meeting a goal or feel ungrateful for what you have, that’s indulgence. When you reach for the bottle or the smokes, that’s indulgence. Most of our problems stem from a simple lack of self-control. The longer we go without cultivating this discipline, the more work we have to do to build it up.

Zen masters often compare the clearing of the mind to the sweeping of a dusty room. Even if you just let the room sit with no activity, it’s going to develop a bit of dust each day. Eventually this dust will be thick and disruptive. The key is to sweep a little bit each day, clearing the small amounts of dust away before they become large obvious burdens. This is what daily meditation practice does for your self-discipline.

The distracted ego mind is always rationalizing. It’s always saying “tomorrow” about things that make sense to do today. It’s always pushing aside the present in exchange for worries about the future or the past. The meditative mind is willing to accept its situation. It says, “I’m here for you. Stick with it.” In committing to daily meditation practice, you’re committing to yourself. You’re committing to growth through stillness.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and your water is clear?” We need stillness in order to discover the truth. Life cannot be understood through constant indulgence and distraction. Discipline is cultivated when you step back and breathe through every impulse. Let them come and go. This will carry into your daily life and ease the burden of self-indulgence. It’s remarkable how deep this mindful influence runs over time. But you still have to sweep every day. Even the most beautiful and pristine rooms still gather dust.

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