I once made a determination to call a friend on the phone every day for one year. He was new to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and struggling with a misery of an intensity I'd rarely seen. Anxiety and depression were literally overwhelming him and ruining the quality of his everyday life. I'd hoped to encourage him by leveraging some discipline of my own.
Most days we'd talk for under two minutes. My goal wasn't to engage him in a lengthy and significant dialogue every day, which would have been exhausting to us both, but rather simply to remind him I was there and to try to bolster his determination to do something he said he wanted to do and that I thought would help resolve his suffering. Sometimes we'd talk about the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and the effect practicing it had on my life. Sometimes we'd talk about the barriers he found himself facing in trying to commit to chanting twice a day. I found myself returning often to the metaphor of weight lifting. I told him that steady efforts, if made day after day, pile up over time to yield formidable gains in size and strength. He needed to accomplish the same thing with his life-condition.
He always thanked me for calling and asked if I was planning to call him again the next day. I always answered yes. "I don't know where you get the discipline," he'd often mutter just before saying goodbye and hanging up.
HOW CAN WE MANIFEST DISCIPLINE?
I think of discipline as the ability to expend energy toward a goal on a consistent, repetitive basis. Every single one of us has the capacity to do this, no matter how lazy we may think we are. Our ability to manifest discipline depends mostly on the state of our life-condition, but we can also say several factors are required for us to lead a disciplined life:
Ultimately, I succeeded in accomplishing my goal. My Buddhist friend didn't answer my calls every day, but every day he got one. Three hundred sixty-five in all. He didn't chant every day, but every day he started out with the determination that he would. In the end, however, he chose not to continue with his Buddhist practice. And though his continuing was what I'd ultimately hoped for, I still managed to show him I cared about his happiness with more than words—with my disciplined action. And as his story isn't over yet, who knows what else that year of daily phone calls might one day accomplish?
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore Dr. Lickerman's home page, Happiness in this World.