Harvesting Discipline


On committing to themes, adapting to variations, and the simplicity of choice

Chögyam Trungpa writes in The Path of Individual Liberation,

discipline may seem complicated, but it is actually very simple—it is what binds your life together. Without discipline, life is made up of successive indulgences and confusions based on aggression, passion, and ignorance.

Maybe a discipline is inherently timeless because of that binding. It allows a person to become more relevant to themselves and to others, to choose something across a lifetime which of course is too heavy to do all at once.

There is that way of talking about a practice as a self-fulfilling thing - that the more practice happens, the more enjoyment in practice, so the more practice happens.

Dusty heavy things

One day I was at a coffee shop at Penn State with a friend and teacher. He told a story of a relative who was passionate about lots of things. Having abundant interests but the same amount of time as the rest of us, he would cycle from hobby to hobby and start more than he could keep up with. But along the way, attention paid to one thing required the others to collect dust.

That dust caused frustration over time. The more one pursuit developed, the more dust fell over past passions. This created tension as he attempted to develop any one of his interests. So to clean up the dust and relieve the tension, he either needed more time (nope) or to commit to less.

The moral of the story was to give permission to lead what my friend called an ordinary life.

Chase two rabbits, catch none

Leaping into Interest Monogamy

Recently at a musical gathering, a friend and teacher described the urgency of personal commitment to a traditional discipline. Although this context was musical, the message was universal: Choose it, or don't. But once chosen, don't be wishy-washy. Don't course correct without allowing enough time for it to really develop. These things require too much to not really commit. And in all seriousness past and future practitioners depend on this.

I have written previously about saying no in response to limited time. Back then it was a matter of managing expectations in the immediate term and not pissing off those who rely on you.

Commitment to a larger discipline is about saying a fearless no to other possibilities, other heavy things: Interesting things which maybe take months or years to really evolve properly, which require real commitment to grow.

But the real fearless choice is in saying yes to the chosen discipline. To cut out the habit of window shopping for possibility and realize how little time there is to evolve even one. To show up to it fully.

"No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful." Hebrews 12:11