029 | Discipline, Stillness, and Wisdom
Cultivating a foundation to stand on when things are far from ideal.
It’s Sunday and it is exactly one month since the last issue of this newsletter, Beginner’s Mind. I spent this past week in Tucson Arizona, where I spent time alongside a loved one.
Now that I am back, I am planning on doing more writing and getting back to publishing weekly issues of this newsletter.
Later this month, on March 22nd, I will begin teaching a Foundations of Mindfulness course at the Zen Life & Meditation Center in Chicago. Classes will be available virtually and in person. For more information, visit this website.
The classes include practical, down-to-earth, experiential teachings that you’ll be able to apply right away. This is the best way to establish your mindfulness meditation practice, become more resilient in the face of change, and ground you in the fundamentals of living a Zen-inspired life.
I want to introduce this issue with a focus on the tragedy that is currently plaguing Ukraine — but rather than virtue signaling, changing my profile to blue and yellow, or sharing the horrors of which we’ve all seen and heard, I want to respond with a poem that came to mind.
The Rose That Grew From Concrete
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping it's dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
— Tupac Shakur
I like to think of it as a call to action of resilience and a reminder that despite the horrors of the world, our tears can penetrate the cracks and nourish a better future. This is true even when we are at the mercy of affliction.
Entering a noble path
Over the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which are practical guidelines that exist to provide guidance on how to co-exist in the world. They are secular and don’t need to be adopted as religious dogma so, despite your religious stance, they are not designed to detract from your core beliefs.
The Noble Eightfold path is the foundation of Buddhist teaching and its main focus is to provide a practice that liberates us from the cycle of suffering. And today, we don’t have to go very far to see that suffering is a hot pink elephant riding a tiny bicycle through a brimstone road.
The Eightfold Path consists of: 1 • right understanding // 2 • right thought // 3 • right speech // 4 • right action // 5 • right livelihood // 6 • right effort // 7 • right mindfulness // 8 • right concentration.
But they can be distilled into three divisions —
discipline, stillness, and wisdom.
Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Forest Park Public Library, where I explained the benefits of meditation, debunked common misconceptions, and led a guided session. I mentioned that my favorite thing about meditation is not so much what happens during it but what happens after. What happens after you get up from your seat and you go about your business — when you get into an argument or when somebody bumps into your new car and damages your bumper.
I explained that when you sit alone to meditate, you are cultivating tolerance to face yourself but more importantly, you are learning to be self-compassionate — which of course, if you are compassionate towards yourself, naturally, you become compassionate towards others. It’s a mysterious form of reciprocity.
The American writer and Zen priest, Norman Fisher, put it this way
We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves.
I mention this because it is easy to get caught up in our own self-centered views that we lose sight of the full picture that includes a world that is beyond ourselves — a world in which every moment presents us with an opportunity to make a difference.
And today, with the ails and the ills that are front and center, more than ever, compassion not just for ourselves but for others is crucial.
The Noble Eightfold Path is an engaged framework applicable to life as we know it — it begs for us to roll up our sleeves and it is the helmet we wear when we dive into the rubble head first. It is applicable to how we tie our shoes, eat, treat each other, and spend our days. Everything.
But before you continue reading, I ask you to pause for a few minutes and think about what is important to you.
What do you value and cherish in your life? Is it the people in your life? Is it having a space to be creative? Is it being understood?
Okay, did you think of something? Cool. Continue.
Let’s now focus on discipline, stillness, and wisdom.
Discipline includes — right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Contrary to popular belief, discipline is not rigid or confining. Rather, its primary focus is managing how we go about holding the things that matter to us close. Discipline is concerned with how we walk, sit, talk, respond, serve, and so forth. It deals with the effort we exalt upon our priorities and how we nourish and bring our values into fruition.
It’s imperative that self-discipline remains grounded in something that sustains life, whether it is community, education, a social issue, etc.
It might surprise you but we are already quite disciplined but perhaps in ways in which we aren’t too proud. When we spend hours a day scrolling on social media or gossiping behind people’s back — we are being disciplined but not in a particularly beneficial way. I once heard that drug addicts are by far some of the most disciplined people because they will go through whatever is necessary to score.
But the discipline that I am mentioning is wholesome, embodied, and altruistic, and paves the way for a fulfilled life — it brings us closer to understanding the world and shapes how we live our lives. It shakes the critters under the rug, removes the dust, and makes room for trust in natural instincts.
It encourages us to nourish ourselves with life-sustaining actions and habits that enable us to show up to life and nudges us to raise our hand when the things that matter come to the forefront.
Stillness includes — right speech, right action, and right livelihood.
Stillness refers to a wakeful presence to reflect on what is happening around us. Our culture loves to move fast. We blindly champion expedited progress and view growth and abundance as good.
We’re encouraged to look outward for answers, and much rather prefer to remain undisturbed than face the cold hard facts. Our culture loves novelty and makes little room for stillness and contemplation.
Stillness is spaciousness. It grants us access to feel, observe, and question. I like thinking of it as an incredibly radical act that is disruptive. It challenges us to reconsider the rate at which we speak, and inquire into our actions. Stillness will tell us sooner or later whether what we are doing is downright bad or good.
When we pause to be still — even for just 10 minutes with no agenda, we begin to slowly cultivate an increased sense of awareness that fosters equanimity and right action.
Stillness doesn’t mean that we become deadweight and watch the world pass us by, rather it asks us to participate in the world with a renewed sense of stillness that might be the thing to manifest love, tolerance, and charity.1
Wisdom includes — right thought and right understanding.
Nobody can argue against learning. Today, you can learn just about anything on the internet. There are books, masterclasses, tutorials, articles, everything.
But the wisdom we’re talking about here is a bit more nuanced. Its focus is more on discernment, clarity, and understanding. It’s a type of wisdom that transcends the self and perceives things from a holistic approach that takes into consideration the impact of our actions. It is compassionate wisdom.
It’s not wisdom that is imposing or driven by politics or an agenda. It is wisdom that is to the point. It calls out pain and calls out injustice. It is wisdom that is rooted in fact not speculation. It is looking into the nature of things.
It is wisdom supported by discipline and stillness, a type of wisdom that clearly shows the path forward. A curious mode of understanding and freedom that assists us in looking at things straight in the eye.
I hope this was a welcoming primer into how discipline, stillness, and wisdom can be a concoction that inspires skillful action in everything we do. The world is full of uncertainty and having some sort of spiritual or moral compass, I have found to be quite useful when lost in the eye of the storm.
If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend the book The Path of Individual Liberation by Chögyam Trungpa and exploring Buddhism for Beginners on Tricycle.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
Some songs seem to encapsulate the entirety of the human experience in just a few minutes. These are a few. And the first track, Legendary Hearts by Lou Reed (who makes frequent appearances on this newsletter), has a wonderful music video which I’d like to share.
If you follow the Beginner’s Mind playlist below on Spotify, every issue, it’ll be updated with new music. I’ve also added the titles of the songs below.
Legendary Hearts Lou Reed
Hate It When You Leave Keith Richards
Make You Feel My Love Bob Dylan
Pressure Drop Toots & The Maytals
See Your Sunshine Paul McCartney
Everyday People Sly & The Family Stone
Drifting Marianne Faithful
How Deep Is Your Love Bee Gees