Reliable and genuine discipline comes not from repression, but from an understanding of all the whys and wherefores of our actions. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
To me, it seems that he is saying that the path of repressing an urge is neither true nor reliable discipline. He goes on to say that the only true and reliable discipline comes from understanding the reasons behind our actions.
Take a person who is an addict. They can move across country, sever all ties with the people they used to hang out with, but the urge to use is still there. If push comes to shove, and they really feel a need for a fix, they will find a way to get it. Repression doesn’t work reliably over the long term. You have to come to grips with why you are using, and base your discipline on satisfying those needs in another manner.
Why is self knowledge important?
Self knowledge is an interesting thing. So many of us think we know ourselves, but will rarely ask the kind of probing, pointed questions that are required to arrive at the true answer. Temptation, or anything else that requires self-discipline, can only be overcome by asking those tough questions and getting honest answers.
Once you have the honest answers, you can begin to look deeper into “the whys and wherefores of our actions.” Once we understand the whys and wherefores, we can then start to figure out how to better meet our needs. Rigid discipline, based on repression or denial, will eventually fail. It is almost preordained to happen.
If you know you are tempted by something because it fills a void in your life, fulfills a need that you absolutely must have, you will find a way to fill it even with your best attempts at self-discipline. However, if you know you have that need, perhaps you could find a more appropriate method to fill it, and no longer need discipline because it is no longer an improper action. Does that make sense?
Where can I apply this in my life?
Ask yourself a question about yourself. Any question about a temptation of yours. Then ask yourself one of these questions (or ones that are similar in nature, but specific to what drives your temptation) :
- “Who is around when you are most tempted?”
- “What is it that you are trying to get by this behavior?”
- “Where are you most likely to give in?”
- “Why do you keep doing this behavior?”
- “When does that happen most often?”
- “How does that make you feel?”
Bonus points if you recognized these as the standard interrogative questions. Now that you have asked yourself one question, use a different question and apply it to the answer you just gave. Then do it again and again, until you have exhausted all 6 questions. If you put some heart into it, you probably learned a thing or two about yourself.
Obviously, this is a very artificial way to interrogate yourself. It would probably gain you more (provided you are sufficiently brave and honest) to ask the questions that an answer begs to have asked. Many people will “beat around the bush” and give answers that are almost there, but off by just a bit. If you give an evasive answer, do you think you will be strong enough to ask the pointed follow-up question, or will you just nod and ask another soft-ball question?
It might help if you can find someone who you trust to help with the questioning. The point of the exercise is to get to the honest truth. Any deviation from the truth, and your plan will fail because it is predicated on a lie. I hope that makes sense.
Now that you have “an understanding of all the whys and wherefores of our actions”, you can start to determine how best to satisfying the needs that prompted your old actions. Returning to our drug addict example, perhaps they feel they have no love in their life, so they bury the pain under the euphoria (or other sensations) of their fix. Or they might be doing it for the thrill, not of the drug so much as to be able to live a “normal” life and still use. Again, another very artificial example.
Your big project is to try to pin down, as exactly as possible, what motivates you to give in to the temptation you are working on presently. Once you have that, brainstorm a few ideas as to the best (and most appropriate) method to satisfy the need within the bounds of propriety and societal norms. Hopefully the next time you are tempted, you can use this new alternate behavior instead of your old action.
Be creative, and be brave. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain for a brief moment of honesty with yourself. Please understand that this method could prove useful in helping you understand anything from a drug addiction to understanding why you’re “crazy about a sharp dressed man” (to quote a ZZ Top song) to why you just gotta have some chocolate or coffee (although it may include some advanced organic chemistry to fully appreciate).