The True Meaning Of Discipline

Ways We Can Bring Discipline Into Every Moment And Transform Our Lives

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #120

Discipline can mean different things to different people.

Some people think that everyone needs to be like they were trained in the military, up before most people would ever want to be awake, workout, have a fierce look on their face, and treat everything like you are going into battle.

Others look at discipline as being a detached stoic, treating everything in a hands off way.

Some think of disciple as best dealt with through almost obsessive control, monitoring every small detail so that everything fits nicely, monitored and recorded.

None of this is necessarily wrong. Life though, doesn’t always fit into our framework, follow our plans, or listen to us when we tell it how it should be.

Life is messy sometimes.

Discipline for someone who trains the mind, who trains the body and who strives to put the two together in understanding and living within what is ultimate reality means that we stick to training in a way that understands that attachment to our own delusion and BS and attachment to beliefs, ignorance and aversion is the opposite of what we need to do.

Discipline is all about cutting through all delusion. It is about being the calm in the storm. It is about understanding what we are told by society, by selfish desires, by things we cling to lead us down a road that takes us away from what is true.

So what is true then and what is discipline?

Well, there are a ton of people who are going to lead you down a road of their own explanation of discipline that is actually about ego, things that are fueled by selfishness, by want. They will make you buy into this idea that we have to be hard with ourselves so that we can get stuff done. The truth is that this is, from a training perspective and especially from a Zen sort of viewpoint to be just a delusional view of reality that so many of us are constantly told we need to buy into. It is as if the only way you can live a real life is by doing things, by getting after it, by accumulating.

Look at the world around us and ask yourself what kind of damage has been done by this societal view of needing, of wanting, of taking. It is a me, me, me perspective. It isn’t discipline. It is delusion and has consequences not just with ourselves but with the world around us.

What we and the world needs most is for us to all be less delusional. To see what life actually is. You aren’t going to get there by running yourself ragged, by getting no sleep, by trying to control everything and everyone. That isn’t freedom, that isn’t peace and is nothing more than a tyrannical capitalist view that you are trying to enforce on yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you should do things or have some level of control in your life. You definitely should but discipline doesn’t mean to become an obsessed person fostering ulcers because you are trying to live like some young kid learning to be a soldier in basic training.

I don’t love the term mindfulness these days. It has become just as clichéd as some have twisted what Zen means to fit a whole host of ideas that don’t really mean what it actually means. However, mindfulness in its true sense is the most important aspect of what discipline needs to mean. In other words, we need to learn to think with a big, huge, open mind that is also able to discriminate between what is real and what is fake, what is important and what is not, what is life and what is delusion.

I remember when I was in basic training myself and a Sgt who was putting us through the game that was the training told me that the reason they do room and uniform inspections that you can never really pass is that they are trying to get people who let their minds do whatever they want to do, to instead retrain them to focus, to concentrate on small things like making a bed or polishing boots and doing these things to a high degree and an even higher standard. He said that when you can force the mind to concentrate and gain discipline it changes everything about that person.

I remember thinking that this was like the kind of thing my first Sensei taught us when we were kids and what my first Zen master taught me when we would do working meditation or eat in meditative silence in the Zendo.

Discipline. True discipline has to start with the mind. It has to start with the way we view ourselves and what reality actually may be. True discipline means cultivation of true stillness and what that not only means but what we begin to see when we knock on that door.

Unfortunately this understanding is something that is lacking these days when it comes to training and people look at discipline as more of a physical thing, something that we have to push ourselves to do. It is true we need to be disciplined as in our stick-to-it-ness but derived from compassion and our understanding of impermanence and our desire to be free of delusion. In this way discipline also means being understanding of our failings, it means being compassionate to ourselves and others, it means being in a state of constant questioning of what it is that we are being motivated by and through training to mind to focus, to concentrate and to try our best not to be controlled by a mind that is like a crazed monkey jumping and leaping from tree to tree throwing fruit at everything around it.

Think of discipline as stability. When we are able to live a life without our mind being like that monkey, without the mind leaping around, fixating, dealing out whatever its impulses want then we are able to begin to see the truth with a capital T. We are able to focus. We are able to live a life far more free from the suffering that a crazed monkey mind creates and dishes out.

When we do this a whole new world opens up for us.

The best thing is that you can start right now. Take a look what is going on between those two ears of yours.

Is there are monkey there?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this episode we discuss the book In The Footsteps of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings On The Essence Of Meditation, by Phakchok Rinpoche, pick up a copy of the book here.

How To Find True Freedom

…And How Not To Be Like A Dog Chasing Hornets, Getting Stung And Then Chasing More Hornets

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #118


We are creatures of choice. Perhaps that is one of our defining features. Humans make choices. Of course just as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve and the apple, sometimes we make good ones and sometimes the choices we make are less so – all choices have consequences though.

This seems like common-sense but how many of you have made a decision to do something, or not do something, and then afterwards you felt like kicking your own butt around the block a few times – or more than a few times.

We all make choices — every moment actually. Some choices you are going to decide are good. Some you will decide were stupid. Some you’ll not even think about.

Regardless of the fact that I have been training for decades, I can honestly say that it has taken me all this time – now in my 50s – to truly see how the decisions we make or fail to, each and every single thing we do actually, has consequences.

In Buddhism we call this Karma. What it is though is cause and effect. Every breath you take causes an effect, every action you make causes an effect. Think about that for a second or two – everything you do as a living and breathing thing sends out ripples that change everything.

It isn’t just the so called bad choices — everything we do sends out ripples. Everything changes everything. Forever.

I am first to admit I have made a lot of ridiculous choices in this life. And I’m not naïve – so have you, so has everyone, so has my dog for that matter. My dog loves chasing hornets, she will leap and bite at them in the backyard for hours if I let her and yes, those same hornets will sometimes sting her and in pure dog form, a few seconds later she will be right back at it, snapping and jumping and running.

How often are you and I like that? Virtually mindlessly doing things that make no sense to anyone watching?

Maybe you engage in gossip without thinking about it.

Maybe you drink too much.

Maybe you do any other shopping list of things that someday you are going to look back on and be like, ‘hmm, interesting, why on Earth didn’t I know better?’

I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about any of it.

For one, what is in the past is in the past. Learn from it and move on. The second is that we are all just simple and flawed human beings doing are best to get by. Sometimes we are like my dog chasing hornets not realizing what is going to happen next – the thing is though, we need to train ourselves to be better, and most importantly, to learn from our mistakes.

This goes for everything we do.

I’ve been involved in the martial arts for about 40 years and in that time I’ve met so many people who want to believe their own hype and act like training in the martial arts makes them into some sort of big screen superhero. They walk around like they are imbued with super powers; invincible, better than anyone else. Of course this is ridiculous. Actually beyond ridiculous.

Do you think that the belt that someone has given to you makes you any different than anyone else? It is ludicrous. Does the fact that you train in whatever martial art make you unbeatable – they also thought the Titanic was unsinkable.

I’ve known people who are stellar martial artists who have been killed. I’ve known people who were certain they were a cut above everyone else brought to their knees by life. I’ve known people who you’d think were ok thanks to their training who took their own lives.

I myself have been through my own share of usually naively self-created life drama.

These days though, I have taken a different path.

I first off try to do as little harm as possible. This means a lot of different things. I am a vegetarian, I try my hardest not to speak against others or gossip, I make cultivation of compassion my central training, I try my best to think first and act second, I remind myself about a thousand times a day that right now is all I have so don’t fear the future and don’t live in the past, I remind myself as well throughout my day that everything is impermanent and try to grasp what that means. Added to this I aim myself down a road where I try very hard to not be angry, not be selfish, not be cruel, not be critical.

Of course this is all very, very, very difficult.

The difference though is that if I don’t try to steer myself down this path. To understand that this is the Way. That I will realize I’m just like baby shark-dog snapping at hornets that bite back and then bite back at them because they are biting at me.

Nobody said training is easy.

To be honest, the world is full of people who give it all half an effort. And by that, I’m not talking about just training, I’m talking about life.

When all is said and done though, I think most of us want to leave this world a better place for having been in it. We can be mindless or we can be mindful.

We can be unkind or we can be kind. We can be uncompassionate or we can be compassionate.

I know the choice I’m making.

I pass and I fail all the time. The thing is, I learn from it now like never before.

My aim in this life is to be, as I’ve said before, a light in the darkness. Sometimes that light will hopefully be blazing bright and sometimes a subtle glow but light in the darkness is far better than simply bringing more darkness.

What are you going to do?

What are you doing today?

You can sit and meditate. You can kick and punch and choke people out. This is all well and good but ask yourself, what use is any of it if you are mean, cruel, angry, judgemental, selfish and cold?

Instead, how about you make your central aspect of training to be about more than something superficial. How about you make your training about being a light in the darkness.

Imagine if everyone decided today to leave the past and all those dumb choices behind them and made the present something far greater?

What are you going to do?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

This week we talk about author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. Pick up her book Real Change here.

The Quest For Freedom Of The Spirit

How finding stillness in everyday life can show us the true magic of reality

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 115


One of the most important things we can learn through training is how to be still – how to actually understand and apply stillness. Stillness that isn’t just mimicking stillness.

Through stillness we start to see what is actually there.

This is one of the most important aspects of training and life that most people don’t even understand is there, have never been taught about and have no idea how to go about.

I’ve been training in martial arts alone for 40 years now – not that there is anything inherently special about that but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard comments from both students and teachers that stress that all that matters is fighting, learning new techniques, getting promoted, competing, winning, being a champion and any other multitude of things that are just external trappings. The reality though is none of that matters all that much or at least not as much as coming to an understanding of who you are – who you really are.

If being a champion matters the most what are you going to do with the rest of your life and the rest of your training when those days are well behind you?

If all that matters is learning to become the most devastating fighter who ever walked, how are you going to reconcile with the fact that all that you’ve lived in fantasy-land all your life and have actually no idea what a real fight is like?

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t train hard and strive to be the very best you can, however that rolls out for you. I spent years in my youth competing and loved the fun and competition. I always have trained for realism. The thing is, I also have been training in Zen just as much as the martial arts and especially when I hit 50 I have started to see the true potential and true need to take the most important aspects of training to their fullest.

Here is the thing. You can go to the gym. You can stand in front of the mirror in your expensive workout gear and do bicep curls and truly believe that you are getting into shape – and God bless you for it but those bicep curls alone are not doing you any good. In fact, just doing bicep curls without working all the rest of the arm – and the rest of your body even more just leads to imbalance and potential injury.

The way we spend our time training and our mindset for it is exactly the same.

If we believe ourselves to be serious about training and only focus on one aspect it leads to imbalance.

So what do we do then?

We need to train the physical body for sure. We are physical beings at the ground floor. We need to move. Through movement, through pushing ourselves we can start to find stillness.

I’m grateful for the hard Army training and tough old school martial arts I’ve had to endure. It sharpens the mind and puts you into a place where you can start to learn to quiet things down. This isn’t enough though.

What we need to do is also learn to unite the quieting of the mind with the movement of the body. This will lead to more stillness. Slow movement of martial arts, physical training, yoga and other disciplines help.

This is still not enough.

If you truly want to do the work – and I’ll be honest, it isn’t for everyone – you have to be prepared to see for the first time in your life what life actually is. Most people want to live in a world of delusion. They want to see themselves as sparkling crystals in the sunlight. They want to believe what television and social media tells them. They want to occupy themselves and mask the truth of reality. They don’t want to see what life is actually about. They don’t want to know who they really and truly are.

If you want to truly train, and I mean train in the way that wise people and sages and mystics and prophets have whispered to us, you have to sit, breathe, be truly still and let go. You need to let go of everything you cling to and listen with new ears, see with new eyes. You need to quiet the mind and let go of the thoughts rolling around in your head. You need to witness – probably for the first time since birth that you have been lead around by a storm of senses and perceptions and then something will shift. Something will change.

Stillness can lead to understanding that our senses, our perceptions and our thoughts are actually just us perceiving that we are perceiving, perceiving that we are thinking.

Behind that, if you let it, a door opens to a whole different understanding.

But like I said, most people won’t do it. Will you?

Let go and truly experience what you are and what you always have been and always will be. This is what real training is about.

It isn’t about building yourself up as something special. It isn’t about gossip or status. It isn’t about looking good in the mirror. It isn’t about anything other than finding out true limitless potential that is found in stillness.

You are not small – you are boundless.

You aren’t going to find that anywhere other than within yourself. Some of you will start today, some will forget all about this.

That’s ok – it is still there waiting inside of you, you just need to be quiet. You just need to be still. You just need to experience exactly what is really going on and then make this the central part of your training that all the rest will orbit around.

This is the path that makes all the difference. This is the Way.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

The secret to happiness? Thinking about death!

by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #111

I’ll let you in on a little information. In the midst of all of this COVID that is swirling around us I spent a week in all I can describe as an existential experience. Not an existential crisis but more similar to some sudden cracking through a barrier of the mind and ego.

I think that what brought it about was partially that with the COVID pandemic, the ever looming spectre of death has been floating around like those Dementors in Harry Potter. The other is that in my own meditation practice things have been changing in a way that is probably the most productive change in the decades of daily sitting.

It started in the morning with a seed of thought and then grew. If I remember correctly, I was standing looking out the glass door at the wind blowing the cherry blossom covered trees in the backyard while playing my violin and suddenly I had this overwhelming realization that all of this, everything would some day be gone, me included. It wasn’t thoughts of this but more of a light switch going on and suddenly a new light was shining on things and seeing everything differently. I realized down to my bones that all these people who are now gone had lived in this home, before that it was a settlers farm, before that forest and into the future that other people I don’t know will stand where I am. That everything outside of that door from the hummingbirds to the trees and myself were all going to go.

Like I said it lasted about a week. And when I say it lasted a week I mean it literally lasted a week, every moment of those days. Everything I saw this light shone on it and, yup, that person too, that dog, that bird, that flower.

At first I have to say I was a little overwhelmed by it. But I have had some pretty good teachers in my life and I took the advice that my Zen master had given my over 25 years ago to let go of every experience and not cling to it. See it, acknowledge it and let it go.

This one though was a biggie as you can imagine.

I googled Existential Crisis and everything else I could to see what anyone had to say about this. And yeah, it all came back to Buddhist teachers mostly with similar messages as the folks in the story of the trip to Bhutan.

Now, I don’t think you need to go off the deep end on some existential transcendental Zen death trip. Honestly, without some serious time spent in training I don’t know if something like what I went through would be benefitial to most people you might end up going to the doctor to be put on something. For me though, the other end of that was a much truer understanding of impermanence.

Now, the reality is that I seem to feel like the green leaves are more green. The sun on my skin when I sit on the front step to have my daily afternoon tea feels more alive. When I take a deep breath I feel the good healthy breath filling me with vitality. Life feels like more.

Does that mean I have somehow transcended or anything for that matter? No. I’m still the same bumbling fool I’ve always been. What I think though is that I caught a glimpse of something that is the truest lesson we can learn.

Too many of us run through our lives just blind.

We accumulate.

We grasp.

We delude ourselves.

What my week of … whatever you want to call it…taught me was that all things will change and always have. All things are impermanent. All things are not quite what we see them and wish them to be.

All of us are in it together.

What this means is that right here, right now – man, that is a gift that most of us don’t even fathom. Think for a second of the infinite universe. The small odds that you somehow were lucky enough to be born on this tiny little planet, that even that was somehow made possible. That everything and everyone around you is equally infinitely improbable. Yet we are here.

What does that mean?

To me it means that we need to celebrate this very moment by paying back gratitude. By cultivating compassion and loving kindness. That our time here isn’t about accumulating things that we really can never really possess but that our time here can be used to do good – for the greater good.

In the end, I think that is what this podcast is about.

Training is about turning on the lights and really seeing.

Understanding life and death and then life again. That is the greatest of lessons.

So, you are listening to this. You are alive – right now. That is what you have. What are you going to do with it? And if you have more ‘now’ what will you do with all of that you have left?

Figure it out.

It is the most important thing you can do.

Listen to this full episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast.