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How to develop strong self-discipline

“Compassion, tolerance, forgiveness and a sense of self-discipline are qualities that help us lead our daily lives with a calm mind.” Dalai Lama

What is the real power of self-discipline?

First and foremost, what is self-discipline? If you have ever practiced mindfulness, you are probably familiar with this term and its deep meaning. Anytime you sit on your cushion to practice mindfulness, your breath holds your thoughts and you practice a continuous return to the present moment. When you become aware of your thoughts and are strong enough to focus once again on your breath you are developing self-discipline. We could simply argue that it is sufficient to develop a regular meditation practice to peek a symptom of self-discipline. That is true, of course.

Regularity is a key concept. Let’s just take a simple and practical example.

If I do not practice for a few days I suddenly notice an inner change in my behavior. I feel like my anger comes out easier and I do not feel like fully aware of my thoughts or what it is around me. On the contrary, when I keep up with a regular practice my awareness makes me feel like in control of my thoughts and I can notice as soon as my mind wanders, resulting in quick response of my attitude.

I have developed a belief around self-discipline and meditation practice. After a few years of practice, I am more and more convinced that meditation practice is one of the most disciplined activities. It is truly astonishing how sitting for 20- or 30-minutes results in a strong effort our mind makes to apply resistance. Anyhow, when the resistance becomes stronger and we feel like giving up our meditation practice earlier than the ringing bell, that is the time when we develop actual self-discipline by taking control of our thoughts and come back to focus on our breath.

Some time ago, I came across an interesting book written by a Shin- Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto. The book’s title is A monk’s guide to a clean house and mind. The title appears self-explanatory and I might have thought to get some interesting insights on how to train my mind and become more and more aware of my thoughts. Surprisingly, most of the book is an actual vade mecum with tips and tricks to take care of your house, furnishings, tools and anything you need to live in a clean and positive place.

In the very beginning of this book, the author describes briefly an ideal visit in a Buddhist temple.  He writes:

We sweep dust to remove our worldly desire. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments. The time we spend carefully cleaning out every nook and cranny of the temple grounds is extremely fulfilling….it is not just monks who need to live this way. Everyone in today’s busy world needs to do it”.

Having this in my mind, I began thinking of my own house and my mind. What would happen if I stopped cleaning my house? I would not cause any damages since I do not take actions against my stuff. But then I thought of dust and I saw tiny layers of dust deposited all over the place. I wouldn’t take any action yet. The day passed, and the dust piled up. Until one day, I realized the initially tiny and superfluous dust become stronger than my intention to clean the entire place up. If I keep the same attitude with my mind, the layers would get stronger and stronger until one day I’d lose control of my thoughts. The art of cleaning your mind is pure training to develop self-discipline and ensure you achieve stillness and finally discover the truth.

Simone Santarelli

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