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Dignity of Restraint

--by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Jan 16, 2012)


A word that tends to disappear from common vocabulary is restraint: foregoing certain pleasures, not because we have to, but because they go against our principles.  The opportunity to indulge in those pleasures may be there, but we learn how to say no. This of course is related to another word we tend not to use, and that’s temptation. Even though we don’t have to believe that there’s someone out there actively tempting us, there are things all around us that do, that tempt us to give in to our desires.  And an important part of our practice is that we exercise restraint. 
 
What’s good about it? Well, for one thing, if we don’t have any restraint, we don’t have any control over where our lives are going.  Anything that comes our way immediately pulls us into its wake. We don’t have any strong sense of priorities, of what’s really worthwhile, of what’s not worthwhile, of the pleasures we’d gain by saying no to other pleasures. How do we rank the pleasures in our lives, the happiness, the sense of well-being that we get in various ways? Actually, there’s a sense of well-being that comes from being totally independent, from not needing other things. If that state of well-being doesn’t have a chance to develop, if we’re constantly giving in to our impulse to do this or take that, we’ll never know what that well-being is. 
 
At the same time, we’ll never know our impulses. When you simply ride with your impulses, you don’t understand their force. They’re like the 
currents below the surface of a river: only if you try to build a dam across the river will you detect those currents and appreciate how strong they are. So we have to look at what’s important in life, develop a strong sense of priorities, and be willing to say no to the currents that would lead to less worthwhile pleasures. As the Buddha said, if you see a greater pleasure that comes from forsaking a lesser pleasure, be willing to forsake that lesser pleasure for the greater one. Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you look at the way most people live, they don’t think in those terms. They want everything that comes their way. They want to have their cake and enlightenment, too; to win at chess without sacrificing a single pawn. Even when they meditate, their purpose in developing mindfulness is to gain an even more intense appreciation of the experience of every moment in life. That’s something you never see in the teachings. The theme is always that you have to let go of this in order to gain that, give this up in order to arrive at that. There’s always a trade-off. 
 
This is why so much of the training lies in learning to put this aside, put that aside, give this up, give that up. Developing this habit on the external level makes us reflect on the internal level: Which attachments in the mind would be good to give up? Could our mind survive perfectly well without the things we tend to crave?
 
When you’re meditating, the same process holds. People sometimes wonder why they can’t get their minds to concentrate. It’s because they’re not willing to give up other interests, even for the time being. A thought comes and you just go right after it without checking  to see where it’s going. This idea comes that sounds interesting, that looks intriguing, you’ve got a whole hour to think about whatever you want. If that’s your attitude toward the meditation period, nothing’s going to get accomplished. You have to realize that this is your opportunity to get the mind stable and still. In order to do that, you have to give up all kinds of other thoughts. Thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future, figuring this out, planning for that, whatever: you have to put them all aside. No matter how wonderful or sophisticated those thoughts are, you just say no to them. 
 
--Thanissaro Bhikkhu


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16 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jan 20, 2015 Heidi wrote:

To me, this is about choosing our thoughts, being intentional about how we spend our "brain time." It means having a little discipline in terms of where we direct our thoughts.  I am not my thoughts; thoughts are just random bits of information streaming across my consciousness like the rolling scores of other games running across the bottom of the TV screen during a football game.  I can choose to focus on them or let them keep rolling by.  I am the awareness of those thoughts, and I can choose where to focus my awareness. But consciously making choices in the moment of the thought about what we must give up to attend to them is something I must seek to cultivate in my life - a concept which this article has helped me grasp in a more practical way.  



On Jan 17, 2015 debbie wrote:

This teaching/sharing has been gifted to me at the right time.  I began to consciously exercise restraint a few years ago and the results have been enlightening for me.  Creating healthy boundaries for myself and acknowledging my personal limitations has given me clarity and awareness.  My focus over the last year has been "enough" - having enough, being enough, tolerating enough, enough blessings, enough time, enough love...enough acceptance, enough attachment, enough aversion...This focus, together with restraint, is helping me to walk my talk, to be compassionate without and within.

In peace, debbie
 



On Jan 25, 2012 Prem Paul wrote:
A very well written article. A complex functioning of the mind has been explained in a clear and effective manner. If practice while meditating it can transform the practitioner life for which he is doing the meditation.     

On Jan 22, 2012 Manisha wrote:

I really appreciate how this piece characterizes restraint in a positive light. It often has a negative connotation -- that restraint is a denial or a repression of some inner need or desire, a hindrance to freedom and expression. As a result, there is a common belief that restraint leads to feelings of unfulfillment. I never seriously reflected on restraint until I started making "trade offs" in my life in order to try to live out the things that I value. It was initially difficult to say no and detach myself from certain habits because I thought I could have my cake and eat it too! For example, I learned the hard way that it is not possible to work very late or go out late with friends and wake up early in the morning to meditate as I would miss my alarm each time. Finally, when I surrendered to restraint, I found freedom from some strong cravings and freedom to be live out the things that I truly enjoy. The boundaries constructed by such restraint have actually create  See full.

I really appreciate how this piece characterizes restraint in a positive light. It often has a negative connotation -- that restraint is a denial or a repression of some inner need or desire, a hindrance to freedom and expression. As a result, there is a common belief that restraint leads to feelings of unfulfillment. I never seriously reflected on restraint until I started making "trade offs" in my life in order to try to live out the things that I value. It was initially difficult to say no and detach myself from certain habits because I thought I could have my cake and eat it too! For example, I learned the hard way that it is not possible to work very late or go out late with friends and wake up early in the morning to meditate as I would miss my alarm each time. Finally, when I surrendered to restraint, I found freedom from some strong cravings and freedom to be live out the things that I truly enjoy. The boundaries constructed by such restraint have actually created a sense of boundlessness, well-being, and wholeness that was not satisfied by previously chasing craving after craving. I discovered that many of these cravings were motivated by fear and insecurities and in saying "no" to them, I created a space to be motivated by love and completion. I now find myself nurturing this garden of wholeness and growing in it -- both roots and flowers -- by approaching each moment as an opportunity to do this or do that, think this or think that, attach myself to this or that or to not attach at all. This reading serves as a beautiful reminder for me to be courageous, gentle, and kind in living the dignity of restraint.

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On Jan 19, 2012 Scott Brown wrote:

Here are some of the notes that my friend (Mark Goldenson) shared after reading this book:  Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength The nature of willpower -Willpower is finite: it depletes as we use it -Willpower is universal: there is only one reservoir that we use for everything, not different types of willpower for different tasks -Glucose restores willpower: sugar acts faster but protein and healthy foods are better -Willpower is like a muscle: we gain more as we use it -Symptoms of willpower depletion: irritability, strong emotions, going on mental autopilot. If you feel these after exertion, rest and restore glucose by eating e.g.: Parole board judges are more likely to grant parole right after meals (10am and 1pm) because granting parole requires exercising more judgment. If you want people to change their mind, get them after a meal -Procrastination kills willpower: it drains us over time, like a debt with interest -Impulsiveness is very bad: pur  See full.

Here are some of the notes that my friend (Mark Goldenson) shared after reading this book:  Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

The nature of willpower

-Willpower is finite: it depletes as we use it

-Willpower is universal: there is only one reservoir that we use for everything, not different types of willpower for different tasks

-Glucose restores willpower: sugar acts faster but protein and healthy foods are better

-Willpower is like a muscle: we gain more as we use it

-Symptoms of willpower depletion: irritability, strong emotions, going on mental autopilot. If you feel these after exertion, rest and restore glucose by eating

e.g.: Parole board judges are more likely to grant parole right after meals (10am and 1pm) because granting parole requires exercising more judgment. If you want people to change their mind, get them after a meal

-Procrastination kills willpower: it drains us over time, like a debt with interest

-Impulsiveness is very bad: pursuing immediate desires interrupts long-term goals and causes a lot of trouble: stress, disease, debt, crime

-“The two strongest predictors of success are intelligence and self-control.”

-Sleep, healthy food, exercise, and order increase willpower

e.g.: A made bed or a clean desk creates a cue that subtly reinforces discipline

Strategies

-Avoid temptation: resisting desires depletes willpower for other tasks. Put temptations like unhealthy foods and cigarettes out of sight

-Avoid important decisions when depleted: planning and judgment require more willpower than routine tasks and thus are best done when you’re fresh

-Avoid multi-tasking: it increases stress and doesn’t increase productivity or efficiency

-Set goals: they pull us in the right directions

-Make a to-do list: just the act of creating a plan and logging tasks reduces procrastination. The Zeigarnik effect is the drain of willpower by ignoring unfinished tasks

-Baby steps: focus on small improvements. They increase motivation and add up quickly

-Reward success: give yourself treats for accomplishing goals, including some limited indulgence

e.g.: if you avoid smoking for a month, invest the cigarette money you saved into a purchase you’d like

-Pre-commit: adamantly committing to an action and mentally blocking alternatives reduces the willpower needed to act later

-Track progress: log your progress to recognize small successes and increase motivation. Tracking technology like FitBit and Mint can help

-Recognize bad habits and create good ones: routines sink in and make it harder or easier to act. Shaking up routines can change habits

-Budget willpower like money: choose to invest it in a few important things rather than expect to accomplish everything

-Give yourself buffer: we chronically underestimate the time to complete tasks. Use your history to predict your budget, then add buffer. It’s less stressful to complete fewer tasks than have many unfinished

-Allow yourself setbacks: progress on long-term goals is often two steps forward, one step back. Expecting perfection leads to drop-out

-Postpone difficult temptations: if something is hard to resist, tell yourself you can indulge in it later. This frees willpower and sometimes diffuses the desire. “Vice delayed can turn into vice denied.”

-Structure procrastination: if you really don’t want to do one task, trick yourself into doing a different important one

-Set a time limit on chores: time-bound tedious tasks so you at least start and gain momentum

-Commit to the nothing alternative: tell yourself to do either a chore or nothing. The nothing option becomes more painful than doing the chore

-”You can sum up the research literature with a simple rule: the best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up.”

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On Jan 19, 2012 Dinesh Mehta wrote:

 Audio clip from this week's circle of sharing ...

 



On Jan 18, 2012 Ajahn Guna wrote:

This is truly a great entry.

This is where the “rubber meets the road”.

 

This is not easy, but it is a road worth traveling.

 

Thank you for sharing this teaching with others!



On Jan 18, 2012 Lawrence D'souza wrote:

'When you simply ride with your impulses, you don’t understand their force. They’re like the currents below the surface of a river: only if you try to build a dam across the river will you detect those currents and appreciate how strong they are.'  Very true and thought provoking often when i restrain myself there is a thought 'Am i denying myself?

Thanks for this article which reminds me restrain of my desires is good and the pain of denial is for a greater good.



On Jan 17, 2012 Ganoba wrote:

  The first and last thing we need to know is our identity (who am I? and why am I here?).

Once this is known all life choices become simple. Then there are no temptations, no sacrifices and no need for control(restraint).

Our identity becomes obvious as we stop imitating and following others.

Discard all role models to banish the fog of confusion and get a clear mind; certainty with humility.



On Jan 17, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

Samata BEAUTIFULLY SAID WHAT i WAS TRYING TO SAY.  Thank you Samata

Warm and kind regards to everyone.



On Jan 17, 2012 Samata wrote:

Thank you very much for sharing this.I so much appreciate Ajahn Geoffe's reflections.  I also feel the questions for reflection above are quite important in order for us to take the advice above and move it to a practical application in our daily lives.One of the questions above is related to keeping awareness of "the goal".  This "goal" being stability and stillness of the mind.  I have a different opinion in relatin to "goal"  and I feel that we need to be very careful and skillful here. (Forgive me for not responding to Tan Ajahn's reflection, but I feel nothing needs to be added to his reflection.)What is a "goal" ? Is it something that we are striving to attain? How does this "goal" actually exist according to our actual experience and understanding?  If we look carefully we may see that this goal exists for us as a concept, a view, an ideal, perhaps a feeling or something that we are drawn toward  See full.

Thank you very much for sharing this.

I so much appreciate Ajahn Geoffe's reflections.  I also feel the questions for reflection above are quite important in order for us to take the advice above and move it to a practical application in our daily lives.

One of the questions above is related to keeping awareness of "the goal".  This "goal" being stability and stillness of the mind.  I have a different opinion in relatin to "goal"  and I feel that we need to be very careful and skillful here. (Forgive me for not responding to Tan Ajahn's reflection, but I feel nothing needs to be added to his reflection.)

What is a "goal" ? Is it something that we are striving to attain? How does this "goal" actually exist according to our actual experience and understanding?  If we look carefully we may see that this goal exists for us as a concept, a view, an ideal, perhaps a feeling or something that we are drawn towards.  If we look we may have to face the fact that we don't really know much about our goal at all.  So the question for me is not; 'how do we keep our awareness on the "goal", even if that goal seems to be beneficial such as stability and stillness.  The question, for me, is much more simple; What is happineing right now?  that being, what is my relationship with the present conditions, what is my present experience?  

Whether I have stability or stillness it will be my awarness and investigation that will lead me to the peace of understanding.  Stability and stillness can be good (or bad if we become addicted to them) but I am more concerned with an immediate practice that relates to the actuality of my life 'here and now'.  So, perhaps, nothing is stable or still - do I seek out a "goal" and strive for something "other" than what is?, something that is not actually present for me 'here and now', or do I simply begin the process of deveoping an increasing sensitivity, an awareness, and an investigation, of seeing how I am relating to a mind that is unstalble and unstill? 

A chaotic mind is part of this human condition, but it is our relationship to these conditions that will bring us peace or suffering, insight or confusion.  Our actual practice has to be in the present with whatever conditions we are presently facing.  If we have a goal that we have not attained then we may err in putting our attention towards something that does not actually exist, some future event,  but if we become 'here', present with this reality unfolding right now, then this "goal" unfolds in our prestent awareness.

In love and sincerity may  you be ever-well.

-Samata:)

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On Jan 17, 2012 jpsingh wrote:

this is an age old problem.man is a bundle of desires.the desires need to be fulfilled.they are part of his whole existence.his very being.man is made up of air ,water and soil.the entire physical existence is about the play of these three elements and some junk.the mind is like a horse in a cart sometimes he drives the cart and sometimes cart drives him.mind does not  want to miss on anything. but he has something we call spirit which is equally part of the mind but sometimes both owns and disowns mind.it watches the mind.and tries to guide it keeping in mind the long term interest of ones body in general and ones life as a whole.the physical elements and the abstract spirit is constantly in a tug of war.the physical elements hijack the body .one knows that all physical pleasures come out of movement of these gross elements.in blood air pushes , water moves causing sensations . after we succumb to these pleasures their is a sense of relief.the lust for sex,wealth,power,recognitio  See full.

this is an age old problem.man is a bundle of desires.the desires need to be fulfilled.they are part of his whole existence.his very being.man is made up of air ,water and soil.the entire physical existence is about the play of these three elements and some junk.the mind is like a horse in a cart sometimes he drives the cart and sometimes cart drives him.mind does not  want to miss on anything. but he has something we call spirit which is equally part of the mind but sometimes both owns and disowns mind.it watches the mind.and tries to guide it keeping in mind the long term interest of ones body in general and ones life as a whole.the physical elements and the abstract spirit is constantly in a tug of war.the physical elements hijack the body .one knows that all physical pleasures come out of movement of these gross elements.in blood air pushes , water moves causing sensations . after we succumb to these pleasures their is a sense of relief.the lust for sex,wealth,power,recognition,appreciation,fame are all part of the common urge.unless these so called lust is satisfied the mind will not get any peace or quiet.hense it is necessary to satisfy these lusts to be free of them.none knows since how many times we have been recycled .each time born better.one has only constantly pray and strive to be born in a better and a more enlightened state . so that his desires give way to holy aspirations.their is a pull from elements . their is a pull from the spirit .the elements want to limit him to his physical plane and the spirit wants to make him from the limitations of his self and make him universal.their is a whole chain of liberated souls called qutbs which which like shepherds pick and choose the spirits which have become mature and put them to different tasks which are quite ennobling.they distract the mind from the pursuit of limited  physical  pursuits.one becomes larger then himself.he experiences a pleasure which has no parallel.once it is experienced no desire is left in that persons heart.one only knows about this experience in theory .but it when  experienced no theory will be needed. to get this condition no effort is needed.from being effortless the grace comes and with it spontaineity .only qutb makes one effortless. one must in ones normal condition wheresoever he is placed do selfless service.  in our daily life if we exhaust our physical body doing selfless service , no energy will be left for any negative activity.the satisfaction one will get by doing selfless service will help one gradually come out of ones vicious circle of desires.the task is not an easy one. without love and grace of a qutb nothing will ever come.one in the end has to realize that he is nobody. he is not the doer. the doer is the qutb.submit to him. pray to him.he will send his pully which alone will be able to draw us out of the vicious dark well of desires in which we can do nothing but sink and get drowned. 

 

jpsingh

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On Jan 17, 2012 Navin wrote:

The idea presented by you is very good and relevant, and i think if followed showers up all good  things which we want in our life.

 

Thank you my friend.

 

Navin



On Jan 17, 2012 k r k sastri wrote:

very easy - If you want it. Otherwise it is not wise. 



On Jan 16, 2012 Reshmaa wrote:

 Amazing Right up..

Its so true while I live life.. Every day infact every moment I give up something to get something else.. Its all lies in Interest and sometimes attractions.  Being aware of each moment that I live will make life so different and so fruitful.



On Jan 12, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

Thank you for sending this Somik. I have been meditating for a little over 20 years and I still have trouble cultivating self restraint.  Paying attention to limiting my desires and noticing my present experience has been helpful for me.  It is helpful for me to notice myself noticing myself while I am noticing. It would be helpful if I would be my own experimental subject more often.  Sharon Begley and Jeffrey Schwartz have written about this as mentioned below.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.In The mind and the brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley say: “Through mindfulness you can stand outside your own mind as if you were watching what is happening to another person rather than experience being at herself….  Mindfulness requires direct willful effort, and the ability to forge those practicing it to observe their sensations and thoughts with a calm clarity of an external witness….  One views his thoughts, feelings, and e  See full.

Thank you for sending this Somik. I have been meditating for a little over 20 years and I still have trouble cultivating self restraint.  Paying attention to limiting my desires and noticing my present experience has been helpful for me.  It is helpful for me to notice myself noticing myself while I am noticing. It would be helpful if I would be my own experimental subject more often.  Sharon Begley and Jeffrey Schwartz have written about this as mentioned below.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.

In The mind and the brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley say: “Through mindfulness you can stand outside your own mind as if you were watching what is happening to another person rather than experience being at herself….  Mindfulness requires direct willful effort, and the ability to forge those practicing it to observe their sensations and thoughts with a calm clarity of an external witness….  One views his thoughts, feelings, and expectations much As A Scientist Views Experimental Data—that is, as a natural phenomenon to be noted, investigated, reflected on and learned from.  Viewing one’s own inner experience as data allows (one) to become, in essence, his own experimental subject.”

 

 

 

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