Self-Discipline for Spirituality

How can self-discipline enhance spirituality? 

Spirituality is a discipline. True spirituality is the hardest of all disciplines, because it involves disciplining your thoughts, emotions, intentions, and actions all the time. While the discipline needed to achieve other goals in life is often a part-time pursuit, the discipline to grow and awaken spiritually is full-time.

In ancient times, self-discipline and spirituality were not considered two different things. Self-discipline was the cornerstone of morality, which was one of the main functions of religion as a force that organized society and promoted goodness. At that time, self-discipline was a given; today, many consider it an optional bonus. Ah, how much we have yet to learn from the ancients!

There are many different spiritual paths and traditions. And all of them—except the ones that have been made up in the last century—require self-discipline as an essential ingredient for self-transformation. Whether you are practicing fasting, mindfulness, silence, meditation, prayer, study, simplicity, self-reflection, asceticism, or service, you will need self-discipline. You need even more of it to practice ongoing self-awareness and self-purification.

All spiritual practices require effort, stretch your limits, and kindle your inner fire (tapas). This heat gives energy and makes your body, mind, and heart malleable—allowing you to mold them as you desire.

Goal Achievement as a Spiritual Path

At the surface, it might seem that self-discipline is all about getting what you want in life—more health, money, skill, recognition, knowledge, influence, “success”. At its core, however, Mindful Self-Discipline is about deep personal growth and self-transformation. It is about cultivating your personal power and overcoming your limitations. 

Your goals are life calling you to move forward, so you can outgrow your current needs and be ready for higher pursuits. On this path you will get what you want, of course! But, after a while, you will begin to notice that the fulfillment you experience after achieving a goal soon normalizes, and then opens the way for something bigger. 

In other words: once you achieve your goals, you’ll outgrow them. This is the journey of Mindful Self-Discipline: from goal to goal, you grow as a human being. A point will come where your interest naturally turns inward toward spirituality and service, in one form or another. When that happens, the self-discipline you have developed to achieve your so-called worldly goals will be extremely valuable for you. You will see that your goals and desires have served as a training ground for self-discipline, and prepared you for a bigger journey. 

Spirituality has traditionally been associated with self-denial, rejection of the body, and renunciation of worldly ambitions. That is the old way of spirituality: you were expected to abandon your material goals rather than strive to fulfill them. You were expected to be desireless, rather than moved by desire. You were expected to let go, rather than go after. 

In my life I strived to follow that path for many years, and learned much from it. But I’ve noticed that this approach is for very few people. Indeed, if you are not a monk, that type of spirituality will not suit you fully. A part of you will always remain disconnected from it, perhaps leaving you feeling guilty, divided, numbed, or just “not good enough”.

The world needs a new type of spirituality. A spirituality that is more integrated, engaged, empowering, and active. A spirituality that fulfils your needs, rather than ask you to efface them. A spirituality that empowers you to better achieve your worldly goals, and that uses this journey as a path to something higher. A spirituality in which you outgrow your (healthy) desires by fulfilling them wisely. 

Mindful Self-Discipline allows you to do that. It empowers both material goals and spiritual aspirations. That is the spirit of this book.

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