Abhyasa and Discipline
As my just-turned 18-year-old son, Daniel, wraps his mind around the new expectations and experiences of first year at McMaster University, my daughter, Miranda, is balancing school with a seemingly unending list of extracurricular activities, interests and social circles, and I am groping my way towards new goals in teaching and writing, and new hopes for my personal life and practice. Aside from the opinions and emotions that animate our trio when we get together, we seem to be hovering around discussions about discipline and what that means to each us, given our unique personalities and proclivities
When you look up "discipline" online, you find lots of pithy phrases: Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments, and the distance between dreams and reality. It means doing what you know needs to be done even when you don't want to do it., and reminding yourself of what you want - over and over again. If you suffer the pain of discipline, you may avoid the pain of regret, which is far more excruciating than the former.
What really fascinates me is that self-discipline seems so easy for some and incredibly difficult for others. Why do some people surrender to their bad habits while others doggedly pursue what is difficult but right? While I puzzle over this dichotomy in the human condition, I just keep pushing myself back onto my mat and reminding myself of Patanjali's concept of Abhyasa.
Abhyasa is the sustained and committed effort that is fundamental to progress. It applies to all areas of life: if you want to achieve expertise in a certain field, if you want to fully understand a person or a situation, if you want to affect a significant change in your life (or experience the divine union of the fully realized Self), you need to study and practice repeatedly and over and extended period of time. You must focus and put in, as Malcolm Gladwell's says, your 10,000 hours. When you return again and again and again to your mat, abhyasa forms a habit, a samskara, or impression on the very fabric of your being that smoothes out and replaces the negative or less productive patterns. Practice becomes easier, the benefits begin to accumulate, and we become clearer and more determined still. Perhaps it's best not to ask why discipline is hard for some and not for others; perhaps it's best to just keep going, again and again, quiet the mind and let the deep questions resolve themselves later...