The Power of Discipline


The Power of Discipline

Sure I am that this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strengths; that its pangs and toils are not beyond my endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.

- Winston Churchill

Julian continued to use Yogi Raman's mystical fable as the cornerstone for the wisdom he was sharing with me. I had learned of the garden within my mind, a storehouse of power and potential. Through the symbol of the lighthouse, I had learned of the over-riding importance of a definite purpose in life and the effectiveness of goal-setting. By the example of the nine-foot-tall, nine-hundred-pound Japanese sumo wrestler, I had received instruction on the timeless concept of kaizen and the bountiful benefits that self-mastery would bring. Little did I know that the best was still to come.

   'You will recall that our friend the sumo wrestler was stark naked.'

   'Except for the pink wire cable covering his private parts,' I interjected gamely.

   'Right,' applauded Julian. 'The pink wire cable will serve to remind you of the power of self-control and discipline in building a richer, happier and more enlightened life. My teachers in Sivana were undoubtedly the most healthy, contented and serene people I have ever met. They were also the most disciplined. These sages taught me that the virtue of self-discipline was like a wire cable. Have you ever really taken the time to study a wire cable, John?'

   'It hasn't been high on my priority list,' I confessed with a quick grin.

   'Well, have a look at one sometime. You will see that it consists of many thin, tiny wires placed one on top of the other. Alone, each one is flimsy and weak. But, together, their sum is much greater than their constituent parts and the cable becomes tougher than iron. Self-control and willpower are similar to this. To build a will of iron, it is essential to take small, tiny acts in tribute to the virtue of personal discipline. Routinely performed, the little acts pile one on top of another to eventually produce an abundance of inner strength. Perhaps the old African proverb says it best: 'When spider webs unite, they tie up a lion.' When you liberate your willpower, you become the master of your personal world. When you continually practice the ancient art of self-government, there will be no hurdle too high for you to overcome, no challenge too tough for you to surmount and no crisis too hot for you to cool down. Self-discipline will provide you with the mental reserves required to persevere when life throws you one of its little curves.'

   'I must also alert you to the fact that the lack of willpower is a mental disease,' Julian added surprisingly. 'If you suffer from this weakness, make it a priority to stamp it out quickly. An abundance of willpower and discipline is one of the chief attributes of all those with strong characters and wonderful lives. Willpower allows you to do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it. It is willpower that allows you to get up at five in the morning to cultivate your mind through meditation, or to feed your spirit by a walk in the woods when a cozy bed beckons you on a cold winter's day. It is willpower that allows you to hold your tongue when a less-actualized person insults you or does something you disagree with. It is willpower that pushes your dreams forward when the odds appear to be insurmountable. It is willpower that offers you the inner power to keep your commitments to others, and, perhaps even more importantly, to yourself.'

   'Is it really that important?'

   'Most certainly, my friend. It is the essential virtue of every person who has created a life rich with passion, possibility and peace.'

   Julian then reached into his robe and pulled out a shiny silver locket, the kind you might see in a museum exhibit on ancient Egypt.

   'You shouldn't have,' I joked.

   'The Sages of Sivana gave this gift to me on my last evening with them. It was a joyous, loving celebration between members of a family who lived life to the fullest. It was one of the greatest, and saddest nights of my life. I didn't want to leave the Nirvana of Sivana. It was my sanctuary, an oasis of all that was good in this world. The sages had become my spiritual brothers and sisters. I left part of myself high in the Himalayas that evening.' Julian said, his voice growing soft.

   'What are the words engraved on the locket?'

   'Here, I'll read them to you. Never forget them, John. They have really helped me when times got tough. I pray that they also bathe you in comfort during times of difficulty. They say: 

Through the steel of discipline, you will forge a character rich with courage and peace. Through the virtue of Will, you are destined to rise to life's highest ideal and live within a heavenly mansion filled with all that is good, joyful and vital. Without them, you are lost like a mariner without a compass, one who eventually sinks with his ship.

   'I have never really thought about the importance of self-control, although there have been many times I've wished I had more discipline,' I admitted. 'Are you saying that I can actually build discipline, the way my teenage son builds his biceps at the local gym?'

   'The analogy is an excellent one. You condition your willpower just as your son conditions his body at the gym. Anyone, no matter how weak or lethargic they might currently be, can grow disciplined within a relatively short time. Mahatma Gandhi is a good example. When most people think of this modern-day saint they remember a man who could go weeks without food in the pursuit of his cause, and endure tremendous pain for the sake of his convictions. But when you study Gandhi's life, you will see that he was not always a master of self-control.'

   'You're not going to tell me that Gandhi was a chocoholic are you?'

   'Not quite, John. As a young lawyer in South Africa, he was given to passionate outbursts and the disciplines of fasting and meditation were as foreign to him as the simple white loincloth which eventually became his personal trademark in his later years.'

   'Are you saying that with the right blend of training and preparation, I could have the same level of willpower as Mahatma Gandhi?'

   'Everyone is different. One of the fundamental principles that Yogi Raman taught me was that truly enlightened people never seek to be like others. Rather, they seek to be superior to their former selves. Don't race against others. Race against yourself,' Julian replied.

   'When you have self-control, you will have the resolve to do the things you have always wanted to do. For you, it may be training for a marathon or mastering the art of white-water rafting or even giving up the law to become an artist. Whatever it is you are dreaming of, whether it is material riches or spiritual riches, I will not be your judge. I will simply tell you that all these things will be within your grasp when you cultivate your sleeping reserves of willpower.'

   Julian added: 'Building self-control and discipline into your life will also bring you a tremendous sense of freedom. This alone will change things.'

   'What do you mean?'

   'Most people have liberty. They can go where they want and do the things they feel like doing. But too many people are also slaves to their impulses. They have grown reactive rather than proactive, meaning that they are like seafoam pounding against a rocky shore, going in whatever direction the tide might take them. If they are spending time with their families and someone from work calls with a crisis, they hit the ground running, never stopping to think which activity is more vital to their overall well-being and to their life's purpose. So, after all I have observed in my life, both here in the West and in the East, I say that such people have liberty but lack freedom. They lack a key ingredient to a meaningful, enlightened life: the freedom to see the forest beyond the trees, the freedom to choose what is right over what seems pressing.'

   I couldn't help but agree with Julian. Sure, I had little to complain about. I had a great family, a cozy home and a bustling law practice. But I really couldn't say that I had achieved freedom. My pager was just as much an appendage as my right arm. I was always on the run. I never seemed to have the time to communicate deeply with Jenny, and quiet time for myself in the foreseeable future was about as likely as me winning the Boston Marathon. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had probably never even tasted the nectar of true, boundless freedom when I was younger. I guess I really was a slave to my weaker impulses. I always did what everyone else told me I should be doing.

   'And building willpower will offer me more freedom?'

   'Freedom is like a house: you build it brick by brick. The first brick you should lay is willpower. This quality inspires you to do what is right in any given moment. It gives you the energy to act with courage. It gives you the control to live the life you have imagined rather than accepting the life that you have.'

   Julian also noted the many practical benefits that the cultivation of discipline would bring.

   'Believe it or not, developing the power of your will can erase the worry habit, keep you healthy and give you far more energy than you have ever had. You see, John, self-control is really nothing more than mind control. Will is the king of mental powers. When you master your mind you master your life. Mental mastery starts with being able to control every thought that you think. When you have developed the ability to discard all weak thoughts and focus only on those that are positive and good, positive and good actions will follow. Soon you will start attracting all that is positive and good into your life.'

   'Here's an example. Let's say one of your personal development goals is to get up every morning at 6:00 a.m. and go for a run around that park behind your place. Let's pretend it is now the middle of the winter, and your alarm wakes you from a deep, restful sleep. Your first impulse is to hit the snooze button and return to your slumber. Perhaps you will live up to your exercise resolution tomorrow. This pattern continues for a few days until you decide that you are too old to change your ways and the physical fitness goal was too unrealistic.'

   'You know me too well,' I offered sincerely.

   'Now let's consider an alternative scenario. It is still the dead of winter. The alarm goes off and you start to think of staying in bed. But instead of being a slave to your habits, you challenge them with more powerful thoughts. You start to picture in your mind's eye how you will look, feel and act when you are in peak physical shape. You hear the many compliments your colleagues at the office offer you as you saunter past them with a svelte, trim physique. You focus on all that you can accomplish with the increased energy a regular exercise program will bring. No more nights spent in front of the television because you are too tired to do anything else after your long day in court. Your days are filled with vitality, enthusiasm and meaning.'

   'But say I do this and I still feel like going back to sleep rather than going running?'

   'Initially, for the first few days, it will be a little difficult and you will feel like going back to your old habits. But Yogi Raman believed very strongly in one timeless principle in particular: positive always overcomes negative. So if you continue to wage war against the weaker thoughts that might have silently crept into the palace of your mind over the years, eventually they will see that they are unwanted and leave like visitors who know they are not welcome.'

   'You mean to tell me that thoughts are physical things?'

   'Yes, and they are fully in your control. It is just as easy to think positive thoughts as it is to think negative ones.'

   'Then why do so many people worry and focus on all the negative information in our world?'

   'Because they have not learned the art of self-control and disciplined thinking. Most people I have spoken to have no idea that they have the power to control every single thought they think every second of every minute of every day. They believe that thoughts just happen and have never realized that if you don't take the time to start controlling your thoughts, they will control you. When you start to focus on good thoughts only, and refuse to think the bad ones through sheer will-power, I promise you they will shrivel up very quickly.'

   'So, if I want to have the inner strength to get up earlier, eat less, read more, worry less, be more patient or be more loving, all I have to do is exert my will to cleanse my thoughts?'

   'When you control your thoughts, you control your mind. When you control your mind, you control your life. And once you reach the stage of being in total control of your life, you become the master of your destiny.'

   I needed to hear this. Through the course of this strange yet inspiring evening I had gone from being a skeptical litigator carefully studying a hotshot lawyer-turned yogi to a believer whose eyes had been opened for the first time in many years. I wished Jenny could hear all this. Actually I wished my kids could hear this wisdom too. I knew it would affect them as it had me. I had always planned on being a better family man and living more fully, but I always found that I was too busy putting out all those little brush fires of life that seemed so pressing. Maybe this was a weakness, a lack of self-control. An inability to see the forest for the trees, perhaps. Life was passing by so quickly. It seemed like just yesterday that I was a young law student full of energy and enthusiasm. I dreamed of becoming a political leader or even a supreme court judge back then. But as time went by, I settled into a routine. Even as a cocky litigator, Julian used to tell me that 'complacency kills.' The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had lost my hunger. This wasn't a hunger for a bigger house or a faster car. This was a far deeper hunger: a hunger for living with more meaning, with more festivity and more satisfaction.

   I started to daydream while Julian continued to talk. Oblivious to what he was now saying, I saw myself first as a fifty-year-old-and then as a sixty-year-old-man. Would I be stuck in the same job with the same people, facing the same struggles at that point of my life? I dreaded that. I had always wanted to contribute to the world in some way, and I sure wasn't doing it now. I think it was at that moment, with Julian sitting next to me on my living room floor on that sticky July night that I changed. The Japanese call it satori, meaning instant awakening, and that's exactly what it was. I resolved to fulfill my dreams and make my life far more than it had ever been. That was my first taste of real freedom, the freedom that comes when you decide once and for all to take charge of your life and all its constituent elements.

   'I will give you a formula for developing willpower,' said Julian, who had no idea of the inner transformation I had just experienced. 'Wisdom without proper tools for its application is no wisdom at all.'

   He continued. 'Every day, while you are walking to work, I would like you to repeat a few simple words.'

   'Is this one of those mantras you told me about earlier?' I asked.

   'Yes it is. It is one that has been in existence for over five thousand years, although only the small band of Sivanan monks have known about it. Yogi Raman told me that by its repetition I would develop self-control and an indomitable will within a short period of time. Remember, words are great influencers. Words are the verbal embodiment of power. By filling your mind with words of hope, you become hopeful. By filling your mind with words of kindness, you become kind. By filling your mind with thoughts of courage, you become courageous. Words have power,' Julian observed.

   'Okay, I'm all ears.'

   'This is the mantra I suggest you repeat at least thirty times a day: 'I am more than I appear to be, all the world's strength and power rests inside me.' It will manifest profound changes in your life. For even quicker results, blend this mantra with the practice of creative envisioning I spoke of earlier. For example, go to a quiet place. Sit with your eyes closed. Do not let your mind wander. Keep your body still, as the surest sign of a weak mind is a body that cannot rest. Now repeat the mantra aloud, over and over again. While you do so, see yourself as a disciplined, firm person, fully in control of your mind, your body and your spirit. Picture yourself acting as Gandhi or Mother Teresa might act in a challenging situation. Startling results will surely come your way,' he promised.

   'That's it?' I asked, astonished by the apparent simplicity of this formula. 'I can tap the full reserves of my willpower through this simple exercise?'

   'This technique has been taught by the spiritual teachers of the East for centuries. It is still around today for one reason: because it works. As always, judge by results. If you are interested, there are a couple of other exercises I can offer you to liberate the strength of your will and cultivate inner discipline. But let me warn you that they might seem strange at first.'

   'Hey, Julian, I'm absolutely fascinated by what I've been hearing. You're on a roll, so don't stop now.'

   'Okay. The first thing is to start doing the things you don't like doing. For you it might be as simple as making your bed in the morning or walking rather than driving to work. By getting into the habit of exerting your will, you will cease to be a slave to your weaker impulses.'

   'Use it or lose it?'

   'Exactly. To build willpower and inner strength you must first use it. The more you exert and nurture the embryo of self-discipline, the more quickly it will mature and give you the results you desire. The second exercise is a favorite of Yogi Raman's. He used to go an entire day without speaking, except in response to a direct question.'

   'Kind of like a vow of silence?'

   'Actually that's exactly what it was, John. The Tibetan monks who popularized this practice believed that to hold one's tongue for an extended period of time would have the effect of enhancing one's discipline.'

   'But how?'

   'Basically, by keeping silent for a day, you are conditioning your will to do as you command it to do. Each time the urge to speak arises, you actively curb this impulse and remain quiet. You see, your will does not have a mind of its own. It waits for you to give it instructions that will spur it into action. The more control you exert over it, the more powerful it will become. The problem is that most people don't use their willpower.'

   'Why is that?' I asked.

   'Probably because most people believe they don't have any. They blame everyone and everything except themselves for this apparent weakness. Those who have a vicious temper will tell you, 'I can't help it, my father was the same way.' Those who worry too much will tell you, 'It's not my fault, my job is too stressful.' Those who sleep too much will say, 'What can I do? My body needs ten hours of sleep a night.' Such people lack the self-responsibility that comes through knowing the extraordinary potential which lies deep within every one of us, waiting to be inspired into action. When you come to know the timeless laws of nature, those that govern the operation of this universe and all that lives within it, you will also know that it is your birthright to be all that you can be. You have the power to be more than your environment. Similarly, you have the capacity to be more than a prisoner of your past. To do this, you must become the master of your will.'

   'Sounds heavy.'

   'Really, it's a very practical concept. Imagine what you could do if you doubled or tripled the amount of willpower that you currently have. You could get into that exercise regimen you have dreamed of starting; you could be far more efficient with your time; you could erase the worry habit once and for all; or you could be the ideal husband. Using your will allows you to rekindle the drive and energy for living that you seem to be saying you've lost. It is a very important area to focus on.'

   'So the bottom line is to start using my willpower on a regular basis?'

   'Yes. Decide to do the things you know you should be doing rather than walking the path of least resistance. Start to fight the gravitational force of your bad habits and weaker impulses just as a rocket rises above the force of gravity to enter the realm of the heavens. Push yourself. Just watch what will happen in a matter of weeks.'

   'And the mantra will help?'

   'Yes. Repeating the mantra I gave you, along with the daily practice of seeing yourself as you hope to be, will give you an enormous amount of support as you create the disciplined, principled life that will connect you to your dreams. And you need not change your world in a day. Start off small. The thousand-mile journey begins by taking that first step. We grow great by degrees. Even training yourself to get up an hour earlier and sticking to this wonderful habit will boost your self-confidence, inspiring you to reach higher heights.'

   'I don't see the connection,' I admitted.

   'Small victories lead to large victories. You must build on the small to achieve the great. By following through on a resolution as simple as getting up earlier every day, you will feel the pleasure and gratification that achievement brings. You have set a goal and you have realized it. This feels good. The trick is to keep setting the mark higher and raising your standards continuously. This will then release that magical quality of momentum that will motivate you to keep exploring your infinite potential. Do you like to ski?' Julian questioned abruptly.

   'I love skiing,' I replied. 'Jenny and I take the kids up to the mountains whenever we can, which isn't very often, much to her dismay.'

   'Okay. Just think of what it's like when you push off from the top of the ski hill. At first you start off slowly. But within a minute you are flying down the hill like there's no tomorrow. Right?'

   'Just call me Ninja Skier. I love the rush of speed!'

   'What gets you going so fast?'

   'My aerodynamically contoured physique?' I quipped.

   'Nice try.' Julian laughed. 'Momentum is the answer I'm looking for. Momentum is also the secret ingredient to building self-discipline. Like I said, you start off small, whether that means getting up a little earlier, starting to walk around the block every night or even just training yourself to turn off the television when you know you have had enough. These small victories create the momentum that excites you to take larger steps along the path to your highest self. Soon you are doing things that you never knew you were capable of doing with a vigor and energy that you never thought you had. It's a delightful process, John, it really is. And the pink wire cable in Yogi Raman's magical fable will always remind you of the power of your will.'

   Just as Julian finished revealing his thoughts on the subject of discipline, I noticed the first rays of the sun peeking into the living room, pushing away the darkness like a child pushes away an unwanted bedcover. 'This will be a great day,' I thought. 'The first day of the rest of my life.'

Chapter 10 Action Summary • Julian's Wisdom in a Nutshell 

The Virtue             Live with Discipline

The Wisdom       • Discipline is built by consistently performing small acts of courage

                            • The more you nurture the embryo of self-discipline, the more it will                                  mature

                             • Willpower is the essential virtue of a fully actualized life

The Techniques       • Mantras / Creative Envisioning

                                  • The Vow of Silence

Quotable Quote       Wage war against the weaker thoughts that have crept into                                              the palace of your mind. They will see that they are unwanted                                            and leave like unwelcome visitors.





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