Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Discipline, death and mindfulness

What sort of discipline enables us to face our own mortality? Suppressing our emotions? Doesn't work for me, because they'll rear up somewhere else. Pretending we don't care, looking the other way? Works for some, I'm sure, provided their exit is speedy and unexpected. But you can't unlearn what you've learned about the end of life.

Some stuff on meditating, specifically, some Buddhist stuff, makes much of mental discipline. I sort of know what they mean, but in our culture, and to my generation, that can just sound like school. Wackford Squeers, and his descendants.

No doubt many of our contemporary ills are caused by a lack of self-discipline, and it is of course very important. But I don't want to get into that just now.

I simply want to observe that for me, the discipline of mindfulness doesn't seem to involve suppression, or unkindness to oneself, or an unpleasant rigour. Paradoxically, it seems to involve a letting go, an acceptance, in a particular context and setting (i.e. meditation.) 

The only discipline needed is regular practice, as I tell myself when I'm leaving it too long between meditations.

Maybe, like a musician or a spin bowler or any other skilled activity, we should simply talk about practice. The mental discipline, which does help us to face our own mortality, simply comes from the practice. And the good news is that it is cumulative, or is the word exponential? The more you do, the easier it gets to do it regularly. 

Do it, and the discipline will develop of its own accord. No need for any internal Wackford Squeers, in fact, he'd get in the way.


  1. I read this and see the necessity for mantras.

  2. That is a most interesting comment Charles, and one that has got me thinking, and maybe chanting.

  3. Well, chaps who know and study this sort of thing do say, don't they, that outward and physical expression can do wonders for the innards of the psyche. I have a couple mantras -- and I don't think they're entirely an OCD thing!

  4. Not at all OCD. If it works, it works. It's a bit like the way the mindfulness teachers encourage us to sit in certain ways to as to "arrive" before starting a meditation. The outward and physical enables the "innards of the psyche" - I like that.

    A student once taught me a Buddhist chant: "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" and some of us used it in somewhat stressful circumstances on a theatrical tour - seemed to help!