Discipline is one of those adult words, like responsibility that you don't really want to hear too much about. You'd like to have some more of it, but you're not really sure how to sustain it on a regular ongoing basis. So I'd like to encourage you to consider how living a Zen-inspired life might bring with it a renewed sense of both discipline and responsibility that would not feel like a burden but might be more like lifting some weight that you've carried most of your life. When discipline arises organically within yourself as part of your genuine desire to be whole and genuine, you experience it, not as a duty or chore, but as joy, delight and freedom.
You might think freedom means doing whatever you want. But if you follow your every impulse, while it's initially exhilarating, it quickly becomes tedious and dull. You can break all the rules. You can live like a Zen beatnik; write haiku poetry and talk about esoteric metaphysical practices. You might enjoy firing off clever Zen sayings on the internet.
And yet, you are strangely disconnected from others, and your loneliness grows with each new insight. You grow weary of these constant indulgences. And it begins to dawn on you how easy it is to fool yourself. Your own arrogance has kept you closed and disconnected from others and you long to reconnect with something in yourself that is genuine and authentic.
With some trepidation you take small baby steps. You don't just change your lifestyle over night. You do it slowly. You take up a regular practice of meditation. You see that this requires discipline, but something is pulling at you. Something in you is longing to be free a new way. You get a taste of something good and wholesome in yourself that is unconditional.
It is surprising that such a simple practice of being still with yourself could make you accessible to others. You become reachable. You become teachable. A Zen-inspired life is proactive in this way, because you become open to learning from your life experiences without blaming anyone else.
You begin to appreciate that true freedom is not about being free from something else. That is too reactive and simple-minded. True freedom arises from touching that in yourself which is unconditional and has no reference point at all. It's really up to you. There is no victim here. There is no one to blame anymore. Discipline helps you stay in the cracks, sit and remain within the fire of suffering. And this is where true freedom resides.
You feel some inspiration and curiosity about this kind of spiritual journey. You'd like to inquire further. You'd like to go deeper. This journey has a bitter-sweet quality. You are alone but not lonely anymore. You're not dependent on others, yet you are connected with everyone. Other spiritual friends show up in your life to share the path with you.
This is how you begin to live a Zen-inspired life of openness, empathy and clarity. It is not a burden. It's a joy. It's not a duty. It's a gift. It's not a struggle. It's an offering.
© 2011, Roshi Robert Althouse