Pema Chödrön’s reflection on discipline was the subject of last week’s meditation talk. Chödrön is a well-known writer, the first fully ordained North American woman in Buddhism. She was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in New York City and attended Miss Porter’s School and the University of California at Berkeley, then taught in elementary school for many years before meeting Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and becoming Director of the Shambala Centre in Boulder. In 1984 she moved to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, as founder and resident teacher of Gampo Abbey.
“To dissolve the causes of aggression takes discipline, gentle yet precise discipline. Without discipline, we simply don’t have the support we need to evolve …
“After The Wisdom of No Escape had been published… people came to a retreat inspired by the notion of maîtri [lovingkindness/compassion]. About the third day we were all sitting there meditating when one student suddenly stood up, stretched a bit, and lay down on the floor. When I asked about it later, the student said, ‘Well, I felt so tired that I thought I’d be kind to myself and give myself a break.’
“It was then that I realized I needed to talk about the magic of discipline and not being swayed by moods …
“What we discipline is not our ‘badness’ or our ‘wrongness.’ What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality. In other words, discipline allows us to be right here and connect with the richness of the moment.
“This discipline does not call for severity. It’s not the same as being told not to enjoy anything pleasurable or to control ourselves at any cost. Instead, this journey of discipline provides the encouragement that allows us to let go. It’s a sort of undoing process that supports us in going against the grain of our painful habitual patterns.
“At the outer level, we could think of discipline as a structure. We sit down in a certain position and are as faithful to the technique as possible. We simply put light attention on the out-breath over and over through mood swings, through memories, through dramas and boredom. This simple repetitive process is like inviting that basic richness into our lives. So we follow the instruction just as centuries of meditators have done before.
“Within this structure, we proceed with compassion. So on the inner level, the discipline is to return to gentleness, to honesty, to letting go. At the inner level, the discipline is to find the balance between not too tight and not too loose –between not too laid-back and not too rigid.
“Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess.”
The painting is “Christ in Gesthemane 4” by Canadian artist and author Michael D. O’Brien.