Thursday, March 29, 2007


The other day I mentioned that during my conversation with Ajahn S, the topic of discipline came up.

When he said that, I felt challenged in a not-entirely positive way. Stuck way in the back of my head, I had all kinds of weird Calvinist crap lurking there, images of doing things I didn't want to do in a structured manner with someone ready to judge and chastise me if I didn't do it "right". In the past, I had a tendency to rebel against all kinds of rules, often even when I knew they'd be good for me. That was because I had no concept of what "discipline" really means. Put in the context of only being about management of our efforts completely misses the point of what discipline brings to us.

What Ajahn S was talking about is a different type of discipline entirely. He was referring to the Eightfold Path and Right Discipline. It involves a kind of renunciation. We stop complicating issues and practice simplicity. We have a simple straightforward relationship with the things and people in our lives. We give up all the complications that usually end up clouding our relationships.

A challenge for me, certainly! I am a seeker and have an analytical personality. That's a nice way of saying that I can complicate a bowel movement. I must admit there is a certain degree of arrogance in that, as though I alone would manage to uncover some undiscovered truth about the meaning of things. Not bloody likely!

It's a shock to realize how absentmindedly we live most of the time. We keep our minds captivated with entertainment and speculations. The right way to be absorbed is in nowness, accepting things as they are. We find ways to discipline our minds, to keep us from getting caught up in mental machinations like worrying, creating problems where they don't exist and craving stimulation. We need to have some sort of discipline to end that absentmindedness.

I have chosen Yoga. Meditation bores me silly. Maybe I am not ready for it.

The culture I have chosen is absolutely packed full with rules and rituals. I never understood the comfort that can come from definite set of standards until I began this transformation. There is a certain security that comes with that kind of discipline, knowing that certain things happen in certain ways and that they have certain meanings. In a sense, that is what gives me the freedom to concentrate on the discipline of my mind.

I'd be curious to hear from others. How does ritual fit into your life? Do you find it valuable? How do you practice discipline?




Pam said...

I think self dicipline in the manner you suggest is an excellent idea, a mind free of extraneous worry and problems is a beautiful place. Not to mention the "noise" that seems to be a big part of our culture.

I used to use yoga and walks in the woods to clear my mind of unnecessary debris, now I use music and meditation. If I can be outside, all the better, the next best thing to music is birdsong.

I have tried absolute silence but find that after about 5 minutes the right side of my brain clamors for attention.

QT said...

Quieting the mind for meditation - very difficult, in my opinion. However, once I set my mind to something, and mediate on it, I have discovered the pieces start to fall into place.

I was raised with, and my personality accepts, a rigid schedule. There are many different paths to discipline. I think many young people choose the military for the reasons that you list - they grew up in chaos, and they get security in knowing the same things will happen every day at the same time, etc. There is simplicity in having few possessions, there is a clear line of authority and hierarchy.

I commend you on this quest, Chani. I have no advice for you as I am an old school, just buckle down and do it type. I realize this doesn't work for everyone and I am more than likely in the minority.

The Atavist said...

I like some routine, but in very small doses. If anything makes it beyond routine and into the ritual domain, I get really, really uncomfortable. Chaos: that's the ticket for me, at least if it's not tsunami-like chaos but rather a more benign and gentler version.

My wife has her yoga rituals, religiously (oops) practised every morning. She finds comfort in doing things in the same way, at the same time. I can't stand it.

I do have one routine, though: an extra large coffee and reading emails and news on the computer when I arrive at the office in the morning.

Thailand Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thailand Gal said...

Pam, I tried absolute silence one time and had no trouble with it ~ for short periods. After a while, my mind would become overly active and make me fidgety and uncomfortable.

Spending time outside is absolutely essential. I spend time outside, even when it's cold and windy. LOL


QT, one of the things I discovered while I was in "the desert" is that too much freedom can be as bad as too little.

My chosen culture works for me for the exact reasons you mentioned. It gives context and a bit of structure to my existence. Once that's established, the rest comes more easily.

And I *grow* into it. When I first began, I did all of it with the military precision you mentioned.. and, oh, yeah, it did get rid of the chaos. But that was unsatisfying in the regard that it filled time but didn't necessarily increase depth or context. Doing without purpose is just as hollow as sitting still.

I'm still learning and discerning the meaningful from the not-meaningful which seems to be an important part of that sorting process.

Not long ago, I discovered something in the structure of that culture that doesn't mean much to me. You know.. frankly.. at the risk of insulting some of the Thai people who might read here, I think that particular practice is silly. I had to decide whether it was truly fluffy or whether I was just too lazy to examine it and find the depth. I realized that it just doesn't have any meaning and dropped it.

I think that's growth. LOL


Atavist, I don't want to be routinized like a plow horse. On the other hand, I find comfort in some of it. I like knowing, as QT said, there is a line of authority and a certain hierarchy. Guesswork bugs the hell out of me in a big way, especially when it comes to social matters.

It's in the end all about balance.. which it seems can be applied to everything. :)




caro said...

Every morning, after the kids set off to school I light a candle and darken at least two pages in my journal. Then I meditate and tidy up the house. In the afternoons I try to squeeze in a half hour of yoga, no matter what. This is how I keep sane. This is how I keep the demon-disease at bay without medication. Enjoying life's gentle rhythm, paying attention to what is going on around me. The more I live this way, the less stuff I need and that's fine by me!

Jay said...

I don't think I'm a candidate for that kind of discipline, because the ritual alone is enough to make my brain clamour in fright.

Thailand Gal said...

Caro, simplicity is really important. You know, I've walked away from two households I built in the past, closed the door and never looked back. These days, everything I own could fit into the back of a small pick-up truck and I sometimes feel burdened by owning that much!

I just got done going 'round with V., one of my housemates, who doesn't know what it means to like something and not have to own it. He is so burdened with "stuff" that it would cost him thousands of dollars to move. He fills that hole inside with (alternately) booze or buying "stuff".

These days, I can't imagine living like that!



jen said...


I don't currently. But I used to practice Kundalini yoga. I miss that.

Lucia said...

Having been raised in a strict Calvinist household, I do everything I can to avoid ritual. I do love yoga and meditation (which I can slip into with no effort at all). But I sort of popcorn everything together in my life when I feel like it, because I've had enough ritual and discipline in my life to last me forever.

Setting a goal of discipline would make it most certain that I would be unable to carry it out.

Anonymous said...

Many of the emotional/mental problems I have now existed "before" - when I worked and lived a more structured life. In adjusting to a life of isolation with small children, I let go of most of the control I had over my life. Whether that was necessary or not is questionable, but that's how it was. Unfortunately, now I find myself undisciplined in far more areas of my life than ever before, and it definitely has a detrimental effect on my mind.

Lee said...

When I first started printmaking, all the new language, equipment and processes completely overwhelmed me. It was very hard to let my creative side flow because I was so intent on learning new things. Now I am sometimes teased by friends because I am so "anal" in the print lab. Established routines let me forget the specifics of how to 'make a print' and let my right brain take over and lose time.

Thailand Gal said...

Jay, I was that way, too. One thing I know for certain is that the ritual has to be meaningful. If it's not, I won't do it. :)


Jen, Kundalini Yoga is likely what I am learning. It's all about the chakras, etc.


Lucia, that is so unfortunate when someone imposes ritual on children and then turns them off to the idea permanently.

As I grow and progress with what I am doing, it will likely turn out that my practice of it is "popcorned", too. At this point, I'm not quite knowledgeable enough to do that completely.

Ritual without thinking ~ and without meaning ~ is just brainwashing.


De, I'm not sure how you could have avoided relinquishing some of that control when you had small children involved. Hopefully as they get older, you'll be able to discover things that will enrich your life and bring it back to discipline and balance.


Lee, that's the goal, I think. When the ritual becomes something that communicates to our unconscious and it becomes as natural as breathing.

I was raised in a family that included ritual, too, but it was the most hollow, the emptiest ritual I can imagine. That's because there was no passion, no meaning, behind it. It was social control more than a behavior that would bring about peace, community or contentment. It was fear-based.

Part of Thai culture is the respect for nature, the respect for elements, the respect for others, the respect for life passages and that make me *feel* something, that connect me to the world. That's important. At least in my opinion.




liv said...

My darling, it must be said that some 5000 years ago, yogis realized that the asana practice was the gateway to meditation. Any hatha yoga practice, whatever the style settles the mind and functions as an opening to stillness. Meditation is something that a lot of people think they cannot do, and yet stillness is really ripe for the picking. It is a practice in the truest since. You must stay with it. Peace to you.

Laurie said...

I meditate in the morning and at night. I find it helps to center me. I've been doing it for years. I wouldn't know how to stop. :)

flutter said...

Ritual keeps me glued together. I am not a very structured person, by nature, but I do water meditations every day. Every day. I feel connected to the earth and the power that water maintains is amazing. Now I sound like a maniac.

Susanne said...

Discipline has been a big issue for me. I used to rebel against it like you even when it concerned things that were good for me.

Now I find that it's the only thing helping me. Not through willpower but through that awareness and simplicity you describe.

In recent years ritual has become very important to me. Morning pages, meditation, doing housework, walking, writing in my gratitude journal, I'm slowly morphing into a creature of habit.

Anonymous said...

Mantra meditation works for me. I seem to get the greatest benefit from it when I least want to do it; when I think I'm too busy is when I most need to recenter.

Meditation is really just a tool, though, and you use different tools for different jobs.

Sumo wrestlers call upon the spirits of competition to help them in their bouts, and I think that's an equally valid connection with the Absolute.

Sevenwinds said...

If you look beneath the surface from non western glasses, structure, rules, and discipline actually make life a lot easier because many things are predictable. For example, the rules of contact between people are already predetermined and there is not a need to 'feel out' and make up new rules for the situation each time. Likewise with business, seating, who pays, etc. Self discipline, especially in controlling ones emotions, also demonstrates to others that you have the ability to control yourself and thus the ability to live in harmony with the larger whole.

People from outside Thailand often feel that being structured is unnecessary and too formal, but on the contrary, without these long established 'rules' Thailand would tear itself apart (politically and culturally) like we are doing in the US.

Thailand Gal said...

Liv, I am counting on the Yoga practice to settle me down a bit. More in another post one day :)


Laurie, I believe it.. absolutely! It does help. I've been bad about doing it for a while because I got derailed but I'm on my way back. :)


Flutter, you do not sound like a maniac at all! Did you ever read the book called "The Secret Life of Water"? If not, get it. Water is essential to life. I'd like to know more about your practice. It sounds awesome!


Susanne, habits are truly a positive thing! For those of us who grew up in the 60s, we came to believe we were supposed to always be freewheeling and unencumbered.

It did a lot of damage.


Thomas, I am just learning some of this now ~ about the various Thai "spirits". I'm a believer, I'll tell ya! The very few I've tried really do work! I call upon those spirits, too.


Sevenwinds.. We seem to be likeminded on this. You nailed it.. and you nailed the exact reason why I chose that culture. Too much freedom and constant choice-making is just as damaging as no freedom and no choices.




Lee said...

I totally agree, having grown up Catholic. Stand up, sit down , kneel, pray, repent. It was a lot. I connect now the most with Taoism, I guess. It lets me tap into the flow more than anything else.