Countless people have remarked how if only they had discipline they would practice yoga more regularly. Discipline can be good, sometimes. And sometimes it can be ego’s way of promising guilt, self-flagellation and a spiritual life that is controlled by will – which is no spiritual life at all.It’s hard not to think about discipline as a sought after quality of the most successful people in the world. We respect the discipline of athletes, soldiers, business people and fitness gurus. And in the name of producing a well-oiled human machine, discipline in this sense is really a formidable feat.
The question is: can we come to know our spiritual self through the same means as we mould our human self?
I remember reading a passage somewhere by spiritual teacher Jean Klein about how discipline can be a way for the ego to tyrannize us in the name of spirituality. After all, how is it that we can go about catching the nameless, formless ground of being that we are by adhering to a strict schedule of practice and regimented movements, techniques and exercises? How have we come to think that through adherence to a calculated routine that we can come to know the spontaneous, passionate dance of our limiteless Spirit? As if we could possible sift God into our hearts through the disciplines constructed by our ego self.
In yoga, tapas is often translated as discipline – an important quality of a practitioner. Mr. Iyengar, however, translates tapas as burning desire for spiritual development. This creates a completely different connotation for this concept. People often want to practice discipline in the usual assumed sense because if we adhere to it we can 1) give ourselves a pat on the back for being such “good little yogi’s” and 2) because we can admonish other people for not being as good as we are. To understand tapas, however as a burning desire we shift away from discipline as it is usually understood. Instead, we surrender to the burning in our hearts to know “the more”. We let ourselves feel the ache for wholeness and THIS inspires us to our practice. Yoga practice is a response to the call of Spirit. We listen, hear the burning desire in our hearts for wholeness and are inspired to respond through practices – whatever they may be in that moment.
Spiritual teacher, George Gurdjieff, talked about the importance of feeling the lack in our lives when we are not connected to our wholeness and then to experience the deep wish for reconnection. When we experience these things deeply enough we are compelled to practices that create this reconnection. Here, the will is not a vehicle for discipline but the harbinger of surrender.
Discipline can be a way to help the mind to transition from the highly controlled atmosphere of our culture to knock at the door of spirituality. But, it isn’t essential. Spirit, after all, is looking for us. It’s call is loud enough to inspire our tired beings to engage in those things that take us closer to it. But, we must listen. In the end this is only discipline you’ll ever need – to listen for the call of Spirit which solicits you daily.