discipline  tai chi
By Lon Whittaker

Through my life of ever-changing pursuits of both positive and negative lifestyles, one of the few aspirations that have been steady has been discipline, or the pursuit thereof.

Always seeing discipline as an end to all my problems.

Sometimes I would fantasize about being a cold, efficient criminal.

Sometimes I would fantasize about being self-disciplined enough to actually go to school or stay in it and do my homework.

Throughout my life, I always had it in my mind that if I could only be self-disciplined, I could figure out a way to make something of this time I have been given.

Whenever I would get the strength to start being disciplined about some part of my life, I would go from one extreme to the other:

  • I smoke; now, I don’t smoke.
  • Criminal to stand-up citizen.
  • Lazy to physically fit.

Not surprising to me now, none of this worked.

When I would stop smoking, it never occurred to me to find a healthy alternative or hang out with different non-smoking people. Becoming a stand-up citizen meant finding new ways to support myself, new ways to have fun. Obviously, I never had a chance at running a few miles every day after years of smoking.

All of my goals required small steps—one after another—until I would have finally reached my goal. I didn’t realize that I had a long way to go.

And all of these steps required willpower to get started, willpower to finish and willpower to fail and start over again.

Willpower is the vehicle by which we arrive at the destination of discipline. When I choose to get up at 4:30 a.m. to meditate, that means I must deny myself the pleasure of late night talk shows, turn down the offer of a friendly card game with some of my fellow felons and brush my teeth at 9:00 p.m. for bed. All of these steps require just a little bit of willpower but allow me to get to my goal of meditation in the morning. I could not just randomly decide one night that I would like to get up that early and hope to have any sort of productive day without taking these steps.

For me, now my idea of a disciplined, productive citizen has never been higher nor my goals as that citizen more lofty.

I am comforted in the knowledge that I don’t have to achieve them tomorrow and also that there are small goals that I must first achieve, step by agonizing step—sometimes crawling—while finding comfort in the strength of my will that gives me the endurance to work towards the discipline that it takes to sustain my goals and aspirations, and the willpower to realize that all of my goals are yet a stepping stone to bigger things.

And I still have a long way to go.


Lon WhittakerLon Whittaker, as a child, thought his dad was the smartest man alive. Now, he knows he was only a child with a lot to learn. He is learning these life lessons by practicing self-study, yoga, meditation and writing from behind bars in the Wisconsin Correctional System. A member of the prison’s Buddhist group, he is very grateful for books sent to him byThe Human Kindness Foundation and Prison Yoga Project.

*If you are inspired to comment below, The Tattooed Buddha will print and send them to Lon.*

Photo: Edwin Lee/Flickr

Editor: Marcee Murray King