Do you ever look at photos of people doing amazing poses on social media? Do you ever look at them and think wow! It must feel so free, so cool to be able to do something like that? I did for a long time. But underneath that, we miss something: the discipline it takes to do these things which seem so freeing. Do you ever notice how calm and serene long-term meditation practitioners appear, for instance Buddhist monks or nuns? They may seem to free from the chaos of the mind, so balanced, and yet, underneath the calm surface lies a fierce discipline to practice.
There’s a dynamic tension at play then, between our desire for freedom, and the need for discipline. Often we think these are opposite poles. The word discipline carries with it, in English, a certain dirtiness. A sense of the punitive, the stoic. It doesn’t well connote to freedom. And yet, they are one and the same. It’s through the discipline that freedom takes shape.
This boundary line has long been explored in spiritual practices. The underpinning of yoga, of meditation, of Buddhism is that of liberation or freedom. And yet what these systems ask of us is quite simple: to practice. To practice is to repeat, to refine, to explore, and with it comes the necessary discipline to hold fast to that commitment to liberation and freedom.
What freedom means is up to you, perhaps freedom to you is more space around your thoughts, being able to stay calm and lucid in times of stress or challenge, or perhaps it really is holding a poker straight handstand with ease and lightness. But unless we put in the work, the freedom we seek might not arise.
We can of course go too far with this. And this is where it gets challenging. When we push too hard, practice too rigorously, too intensely; we risk losing the freedom we are seeking by an attitude akin to workaholism and self-punishment. Freedom is not that either. So this boundary line, between discipline and freedom is a balancing act. A constant work in progress, or rather a work in process. And it’s in the process that the answer lies.
Many of these traditions also emphasise an attitude of being non-goal oriented. Of letting go of the desire to get somewhere, because, that’s just another attachment, right? So we have a paradox. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we’re practising with no desire to get somewhere - of course we are, we all do. But at the same time we must learn to soften around that. Liberation or freedom then becomes an orientation, a direction, but whether or not we get there or ‘achieve’ that is besides the point. In fact, as explored, trying to get anywhere too fast is counterproductive.
So what’s to be done? We just practice. We show up to our practice without the hope of achieving anything too aggressively. We do it because we have aspiration, an orientation for sure; but we are fundamentally interested in the process not the goal. In this sense, the discipline - surprisingly- becomes easier to maintain. If we’re trying hard to get somewhere and progress is slow, eventually we lost heart and quit or give up, taking us further away form where we’d like to be. However, if the focus is on the process, the discipline, the practice itself, we’re more likely to just show up for it. We just ‘do the thing’ and trust that naturally it is helpful and is leading us towards greater levels of freedom, it’s just following the path. Where we end up we cannot really be sure of, we point ourselves in the general direction, we practice, and we get on with out lives. At once it’s nothing special, and it’s miraculous at the same time.
This article was written for us by our awesome Brand Warrior, yoga teacher and writer, Soho-based James Rafael. For more information about James, click here