Many years ago I was brought by my Mother to a spiritual talk at a Dharma center in a small town on Vancouver Island called Duncan. My concerned and caring parent wanted to expose me to deep thinkers and sources of wisdom as I was a wee bit wayward as a teenager. Inexplicably this talk would set up a profoundly meaningful mindset inside me. The man speaking claimed to be a disciple of Gandhi himself and appeared to be at least 60-70+ years of age. He spoke mostly in a series of analogies and metaphors. One of which has always stuck with me and helps me remember why the effort is worth the price in experiencing the roller coaster of life
He said that your life is like a beautiful jewel found deep inside the Earth. So first you must dig deep inside the dark to find where it has been hidden. Once found it must be cleaned of the rocky debris it’s encased in and then polished to allow the light to be reflected. And like a real jewel if the polishing and effort to keep it in top form are not consistent dust will form and it’s radiance will diminish.
So the key was to be at peace with the endless work of polishing the jewel. He then explained, in order to actually cut and polish a precious stone in the external world you require tools. A pick ax to dig, a chisel to break off the large chunks attached to the stone, and the polishing material of course. These tools are symbolic of the discipline in any art we choose to develop. This process cannot be circumvented as it is somehow entwined into the very fabric of living.
This reflects very well the reality of the work required to achieving one fullest potential. First one must dig deep into the dark recesses of the unconscious (the Earth) as only then can the jewels of self-hood or enlightenment be found. Once found then only through great effort and diligence can the beauty and illumination of body, mind and spirit be uncovered. The consistent effort in which one works at polishing and refining their own life is generally called discipline and sustaining a disciplined ethic in relation to ones own life truly is the crux to the refinement of the soul.
However the initiation of that process is often perceived as extremely daunting. To look upon a quest that literally does not end and requires endless and herculean efforts can seem almost foolish to begin with. How can someone happily put in great strain and endure both discomfort and being force fed humility on a continual basis only to get the guarantee of the need to do it again on endless repeat.
It all comes down to perspective.
If you want a fresh apple and the only way you could get one was to cultivate your own apple tree then the years of fruitless autumns the tree requires to be able to produce would be easy to understand. It’s similar to when someone wants the fruits of their own lives to produce. You cannot just make a sapling grow a full apple without the time needed for the tree to deepen it’s roots and spread it’s branches. With the apple tree you can see the growth season by season and year by year but with life there is often no obvious marker to measure growth. This is were faith in the process becomes paramount.
An authentic teacher/instructor is a good place to look for seeing first hand the results of disciplined training. A good instructor should ideally embody the desired result of having a sound healthy body, a calm compassionate mind, and a powerful yet contained spirit. After all Sensei/Sifu basically means one who has gone before, or one who has walked the path for a little longer and so can help others engage more mindfully with their own path. There is a trap however in seeking the path externally. The Sensei cannot walk the road for you, only point you in the right direction.
So the real cornerstone of staying disciplined in ones art is almost a mystical sense of knowing that the time put in is worth the price. All people, as Freud found out, follow the pleasure principle. The idea that all people, without fail, go towards experiencing pleasure and go away from pain. Not pleasure in a purely sensual way but instead the idea that eating and being full is more pleasurable than going hungry. It’s absolutely a natural response system and one we are genetically programmed to use so it cannot be genuinely fought against. The art of being disciplined requires a deep faith in the idea that the result will be worth the discomfort and challenges of staying consistent with the training.
So where does the sense of meaning and purpose come from when beginning in a disciplined art. In this area the use of words becomes inadequate in describing the sense of knowing necessary to be consistent in an art. No one can impose meaning on another. All beliefs must be individually bought and paid for or they carry no worth. This means that the importance of perseverance and consistency in life and training are self developed. You simply must do the work without thinking or debating about it. For it’s the act of disciplined efforts that cultivate the self. This then illuminates the idea that when one works on their art they are polishing the jewel of their own lives whereas when one chooses to neglect that sacred work then one is doing a disservice to themselves and the jewel of their life begins to lose it radiance.
In the end this is life. We are all here and nobody can claim with absolute certainty why or even how we got here. The only empirically definite truth we all seem to agree on is that we exist. The rest of the story is up to each of us individually. The path has been darkened and the steps obscured so we must have faith in those whom we follow in the footsteps of. Far more critically we must hold a deep trust in ourselves. In the Martial Arts context every punch and every kick is an act of faith, an action taken that demonstrates to the world and ourselves that we are willing to endure and persevere in our lives.
Drop by drop we fill ourselves, through discipline and time we polish our reflecting of inner light and in time become at peace with the endless aspects of our potential. Faith and training are reflections of each other. Take heart that your faith in yourself can be exercised anytime by doing simple things in simple ways. What is simple may not be easy but that is the gift of the process. Never give up, you are worth any amount of effort.