“As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort… when we practice meditation, we are strengthening our ability to be steadfast with ourselves. No matter what comes up — aching bones, boredom, falling asleep, or the wildest thoughts and emotions — we develop a loyalty to our experience.”
– Pema Chödrön in The Places that Scare You
I’ve been curious why monastic life emphasizes such extraordinary discipline. To wake up each day at the crack of dawn to meditate, do manual labor, and repeat — what does that teach?
For me, it shined a light on how easily our lives are pushed around by how we feel. I feel tired today, so I’ll sleep in a bit. I didn’t have the best day at work, so I’ll cancel this commitment this evening. That person made me mad, so it’s okay to be mean-spirited back at him.
There is often an illusion of choice here. We’re not really being self-aware and making a decision in these cases. Instead, what’s happening is that we’re simply letting the stories in our head justify breaking an intention we had when it wasn’t so uncomfortable. We’re riding the stormy waves that through our heads.
It comes back to being able to sit with discomfort. It’s okay to feel a bit tired, it’s okay to sit hungry for a while, it’s okay that you didn’t have the best day. All that is uncomfortable, but it is also fleeting, temporary, and non-threatening. You still have the power to be mindful and intentional with your choices despite all those things.
The point here is not for us to all adopt monastic-like discipline but to simply recognize that how we feel does not need to dictate what we do. We can be steadfast in our intentions.