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Chapter 10, The Power of Discipline. Part 1
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.
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 overriding 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.”