Discipline: Remembering to Come Back

A key skill developed in concentration meditation practices is discipline. Discipline is controlled, restrained, and ordered and not an attribute that comes at all naturally to me. I like to think I have a flare for working on my feet and driving at a goal with flashes of inspiration, but I have long longed for the flexibility to balance this mode of being with a more steady, determined application of energy. I have often looked at others, my wife included, who are built around effortful, steady movement towards their target of choice as having some innate ability I can’t really understand. I’m still not convinced this isn’t true but I have increasingly found a way to generate a similar capacity in my own life. The thinking behind this new capacity first began when I found this blog post on Buddhist Discipline from Susan Piver. There, Susan talks about several aspects of Buddhist Dharma that relate to discipline but one has stuck with me for several years: remembering to come back.

In concentration meditation, each person chooses a stimulus (or ‘object’) to focus on. It is often the breath but can just as easily be the feeling of each foot as it moves through the process of walking or the sounds naturally around whatever environment the meditation is occurring in. The goal of these practices is to settle awareness on the chosen stimulus and keep bringing it back if it slips off. The goal isn’t to maintain perfect, uninterrupted focus on the object of awareness because, for one, minds wander by their very nature, and for two, the real process and power of concentration meditation is in the coming back.

Coming back requires becoming aware of where our awareness is and remembering where we intend for it to be. This process can be translated to all sorts of things, too, including cooking, talking with a loved one, or editing a blog post. By connecting with where my awareness is and remembering where I want it to be, I can bring more of a disciplined mode of being into my life. To support this practice, I have taken to placing objects in the areas in which I live that represent an element of where I want to be such as a list of the Eightfold Path, the meditation bells given to me by my MBCT teacher when I completed his course, and the makeshift paper tube pictured above. I do other things to remind me to come back, too, like observe and record some activities and I’ve spent time working on the areas in my life that are important to come back to. But these reminders of what I value help me return like I do to each breath.

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