Sunday, November 11, 2012

Training Your Mind and Communicating Genuinely

Discipline: coming back to the practice. 
My neighbor has a great big dog. It's a little smaller than a horse. You can't go outside with a dog like that without training it first. Otherwise, it'll just pull you down the street, terrifying every man, woman and child along the way.

Our minds are kind of like big burly mastiffs. They are strong, energetic and often willful. If we don't train our minds, they'll pull us down the street in any direction they feel like going. It seems odd to think you can steer a course to happiness without training your mind first.

Training your mind requires exertion and discipline as a starting point. When your mind starts to run off,
you need discipline to come back to the practice and the feeling in your heart. Likewise, if you don't put your back into it (literally and figuratively) through exertion, you'll go on being a nuisance to yourself and others.

Discipline might conjure an image of austerely following a pre-determined dogma. However, Buddhism  arguably rejects the idea of dogma. When something becomes dogma, it becomes an extension of someone's ego, and it ceases to be relevant, according to Acharya Richard John. As we practice applying meditation in our daily lives, we can think of discipline as the practice of continuously coming back to the feeling in our hearts.

Exertion is not just about working
up a sweat in your leotard. 
Exertion is not just about working up a sweat in your leotard. When you have practiced with discipline for long enough, you'll become aware of moments where you mind wants you to escape, lash out, or struggle against the situation you are in. Exertion is the super-power you conjure when you say, "hold up, I'm going to sit with this uncomfortable feeling just a little longer and listen to what this person is saying."

I have a mind that sees problems as opportunities to find solutions. At work this is great, but in my relationships, it isn't always great. When my wife is feeling sad and she starts telling me about some problem, I often want to suggest solutions.

Sometimes I have enough presence of mind to realize that my wife doesn't want me to solve her problems. She just wants someone to listen to her. In that moment I feel a struggle in my chest. It feels sad, helpless and uncomfortable. I'm a little bit scared to let it hang out.

Since I've developed some discipline, I'm able to remind myself that going into the discomfort is part of my practice. This is just like the discomfort I feel on the meditation cushion, when I have the greatest idea of all time, but I return to the practice and let the thought go. That hurts!

Once I'm aware of what is going on with my mind, I conjure the power of exertion to push myself through the discomfort. Ideally, if this all works, I find myself cutting through the noise in my mind and actually listening to my wife, with all of my heart.

One of the reasons I started meditating was to feel connected to other people. Tuning into the feelings in my heart is not always easy, but being able to genuinely communicate has been one of the many rewards of training my mind through meditation.


  • Discipline and Exertion are two of the Six Paramitas, which Buddhists practice in order to reach enlightenment. If you are interested in how to apply the Six Paramitas to building loving romantic relationships, I recommend this article by meditation teacher Susan Piver.
  • Sakyong Mipham's book, Turning the Mind into an Ally is a great book to start with if you are interested in training your mind, or even if you've been meditating for 20 years. 
  • According to a study by the University of Toronto, meditators are betting at accepting their emotions and excel at tasks that require self control. 


  1. Good post. I call this the discipline of happiness. It's easy to give in to habit, but if we really want the benefits that come from meditation, we have to exert ourselves.

    1. Well said Tahlia! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the blog.