Discipline is a gift we give ourselves. It heightens every human experience and increases every human ability.
Each life-giving endeavor requires discipline. To eat well requires discipline. To exercise regularly requires discipline. To think of other people’s needs before our own requires discipline. We do not happen accidentally upon the activities that help us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves. We must choose them, and that choosing requires discipline.
The life of discipline is proposed not for its own sake, but, rather, as the key to making us free. Discipline is the key to freedom. It is easy to give in to the allure of the momentary pleasures that this world so readily offers, but all great men and woman know the value of delayed gratification.
One of the great challenges of the art of living is to learn to discipline ourselves, but at this moment in history, gratification seems to be the master of most people’s hearts, minds, bodies and souls. We find ourselves enslaved and imprisoned by a thousand different whims, cravings, addictions, and attachments. We have subscribed to the adolescent notion that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, without interference from any authority.
Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want. Freedom is the strength of character to do what is good, true, noble and right. Freedom without discipline is impossible.
Is freedom then, the core of the human experience we call life? No. Love is the essence of life. Love is life’s great joy and her greatest lesson. Love is the one task worthy of life.
But in order to love, you must be free, for to love is to give your self to someone or something freely, completely, unconditionally and without reservation. Yet, to give your self- to another person, to an endeavor, or to God- you must first possess your self. This possession of self is freedom. It is a prerequisite for love, and is attained only through discipline.
This is why very few relationships thrive in our time. The very nature of love requires self-possession. Without self-mastery, self-control, self-dominion, we are incapable of love. We want to love but without self-possession we are simply aren’t able to do so. We are not free. We do not possess ourselves and so we cannot give ourselves. As a result, we preoccupy ourselves with all the externals of relationships and call that love.
The problem is that we don’t want discipline. We want somebody to tell us that we can be happy without discipline. We want someone to get on the television and tell us if we take this little pill twice a day we can eat whatever we want, and still look like supermodels. It is another of the great myths of our modern popular culture, the idea that we can be happy without discipline. It’s a lie, it’s a myth, it’s an illusion, and somewhere deep inside we know that.
We need a diet of the body, a disciplined way of eating that helps fuel the body and brings it toward maximum performance. But we also need a diet of the mind, a diet of the heart, and a diet of the soul. Only then are we ready for a serious relationship. With yourself in hand, you can choose freely and completely give yourself to another person in the mystery of love.
If you want to measure the effectiveness of your relationship, measure the discipline in it. If your relationship is filled with whims, cravings, fancies, and constant lusting after pleasure, you don’t have love. These things don’t help us become the best-version-of-ourselves, and if we truly loved another person, we would never do or encourage anything that would prevent that person from becoming the-best-version-of himself or herself.
To love, we must be free, and yet too often we are slaves. Love is a promise, but a slave is in no position to promise anything to anyone. Never believe a promise from a man or woman who has no discipline. They have broken a thousand promises to themselves, and they will break their promise for you.
Discipline is evidence of freedom, and freedom is a prerequisite of love.