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Determination, Discipline, Mindfulness and Freedom

“A tree that fills your embrace grows from a seedling.  A tower nine stories high starts with one brick. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Ancient Proverb


There is often a gap between our intentions and our actions.


Have you noticed it with your children?


Have you noticed it in your own life?


Its particularly noticeable at this time of year. Our New Year’s resolutions are formed, but we are now discovering the challenge in following through on those intentions or promises.


In a way we are seeking freedom by making these resolutions–freedom from the habits or patterns that we have determined are unhelpful and should be dropped. Our habit of sitting around and being lazy can be broken by an promise–an intention or resolution–to go to the gym three times a week. Our kid’s (or our) habit of eating Oreos nightly can be altered by an intention to eat less sugar. We all have a handful–or more–of existing patterns of thought, and thus behavior, that we would like to change.


But when we try to implement the change, we find that we do not have as much freedom as we thought. Ordinarily we think of freedom in the West as being free from outside restraints–we are free say what we want, to travel, and to generally act in a way unencumbered by the government or society’s external limits.


But when we think about it, our freedom is often more limited by our own doing than by anyone else.


Mindfulness can help here–in a number of ways.


One way is that with mindfulness we can recognize our situation. When we practice mindful meditation we can more clearly see what is driving our actions. We can also formulate new intentions, and see more clearly when those intentions are impeded by habits and patterns which have been applied mindlessly in the past.


Another way is that mindfulness can activate our determination–and strengthen our discipline.


Here what I mean by determination is the quality to continue to try to achieve some goal in the face of challenges.


Another word we can use is resolve—which means to make a definite and serious decision to do something. That is what a resolution is after all.


And by discipline I do not mean being disciplined by outside forces–in the sense of a child being disciplined by a teacher to get them to obey rules. Rather I mean an internal, self-directed practice–a training that corrects or molds your character and thus behavior.


In a way, you can think of determination and discipline as mindfulness turned into action.


Mindfulness thus can help take that single step that Lao Tzu recommends we take–which can end up in a journey of a thousand miles to a place we intend to go, instead of one where mindless habits might take us.


Next week I will explore in a bit more detail the relationship between mindfulness, determination and discipline.


John - Director Of Mindfulness


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