After weeks of honing his skill with the broad sword, the young warrior grows confident in his ability, and his Master his happy with the progress. “Remember, though, keep up the practice,” his Master reminds him. “Even I, with so many years of training, must always perform my routines and forms regularly to stay sharp.” The student nods, but of course his arrogance gets the better of him. He goes into town, bragging to the locals, not picking up his sword for a week. When he returns to the Temple, his Master instructs him to spar against a young trainee. Of course, the young warrior snorts with a cocky smile and readies himself for the easy match. Within moments, the arrogant student is disarmed and lying on his back, the younger student’s sword tip at his throat. The Master laughs, wisely having foreseen this. “This is what happens when you give up your practice,” he says sternly. “Now dust yourself off and get back to your forms.”
We are always trying and testing what works for us and what doesn’t--food, exercise, relationships, work habits, etc. We discover practices and routines that tend to keep us the most stable, peaceful, and content. Because we are not static, unchanging creatures, however, our minds and feelings often wander and wonder, and so we must use discipline to stay in practice. Sometimes we stray from the path, led by desires or impeded by laziness; we alter the practice or challenge our necessity for it, more times than not realizing that when we stray, we feel out of balance and less than peaceful. Discipline is the triumph of Wisdom over Desire. In other words, it is the keeping of commitment to practices that we know work, even in the face of desires or roadblocks that would lead us down paths we know do not work for us.
When we stay disciplined in our practice, especially in the most difficult of circumstances, we give ourselves the message: “I am worth it!” You are essentially telling yourself that you care about YOU, enough not to indulge unhealthy desires but rather to do what you know is healthy. The greatest feat is when your desires actually begin to shift toward the healthy practices, and you no longer even want to do what’s unhealthy. That is the result of long-term, committed discipline and self-care. When you lose discipline, on the other hand, straying from your healthy practices, it is a form of self-abandonment--you checking out on YOU. No wonder the aftermath of losing discipline not only brings the immediate consequences of the unhealthy actions, but often anxiety, depression, and self-loathing. You’ve left yourself! But that’s okay, do not beat yourself up. Realize that we all stray once in a while--it’s part of being human. Learn the lesson, dust yourself off, and get back into your practice.
Of course, there is occasion for letting loose, going wild, and getting out of the routine. But if done mindfully with the context of being “wild at heart” for fun and care, you may feel the physical aftermath but probably not the anxiety or shame as a result. If you make all choices from a place of self-care--even when you choose to be wild for a bit--you are in effect developing and sustaining your practice of self-esteem. Maintaining discipline around your practices, therefore, is a direct symbol of your self-love.
Make it a term: “My emotional health comes first.” Stay disciplined in making all decisions from that foundation. Your path will be far less bumpy, much more pleasant, and you will not end up on the ground with an opponent’s sword at your throat.