Success in every field of endeavour is impossible without discipline.

TODAY, I would like to share with you a trait that we should all inculcate. It is a habit that is essential if you want to succeed in all aspects of life – be it spiritual, religious, personal health, wealth, family, social, business, politics, etc. It is the need to be well disciplined in managing our lives.

Religious and spiritual discipline

Being a seeker on the spiritual path of enlightenment, I have first-hand experience on how discipline can hasten my progress, and how the lack of it can impede ascension (on the spiritual stations).

Faith is only the beginning of the journey (without faith, one will not be interested in any spiritual goal); correct understanding gives clarity to the path to be traversed; wisdom gives the ability to discern what to do when obstacles are met; and it takes discipline to be able to put aside enough time to gather knowledge from the scriptures, prophetic teachings (hadiths for Muslims), and other religious and spiritual references, to learn directly from teachers, shaykhs and masters, and also to patiently observe the classroom of nature so that one becomes sufficiently equipped to take the journey.

With the time required to read and reply emails, check Facebook, Google on many subjects, catch up on the news and one thousand other things to be done on the internet (which was not the norm 20 years ago when I entered the Sufi path), there is very little spare time to do my required daily zikrullah (remembrance of GOD) and other supplementary forms of worship.

In terms of the performing the ritual prayers (solat), the good Muslim prays five times a day, starting before sunrise (suboh or fajr prayer, which presently starts at about 5.40am and ends at about 7am in Kuala Lumpur).

The better Muslim wakes up even earlier to do the tahajjud prayer anytime before suboh, plus many other prayers apart from the compulsory five.

The best Muslim does all this, plus regularly performs the qiyamulail, or night prayers, which may extend several hours throughout the night and end before suboh.

The good Muslim arranges his daily routine to revolve around the compulsory prayer times, and not the other way around (ie pray only whenever his schedule permits). It takes discipline to accomplish this.

We are also encouraged to read and study the Qur’an daily. Then there is the discipline associated with fasting (compulsory in Ramadhan, but also encouraged at other times), which includes abstaining from sex while fasting.

Like all religious and spiritual teachings, the discipline includes having good thoughts, saying good words, and doing good deeds at all times.

It takes a lot of discipline to do all these with so many other duties and chores to attend to, work and business matters to address, and of course, the internet taking up much of our time.

In addition, the Sufis have to constantly maintain the remembrance of GOD, apart from putting aside time for the formal zikr sessions.

I am sure the aspirants of other religious and spiritual paths also observe similar or even more stringent discipline to help them ascend the spiritual journey. For example, some yogis have to fast continuously for many days, unlike us Muslims who only fast from sunrise to sunset.

Buddhists who participate in the Vipassana meditation training have to remain silent and still for 10 whole days. Sufis have to undergo periods of total seclusion (suluk) of up to 40 days as part of our spiritual training. You can never succeed on the spiritual path if you don’t have the faith, the perseverance, and the discipline.

Health discipline – diet & nutrition

Many of our health problems are the result of our poor discipline when it comes to our diet/nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise.

Maintaining optimum weight and health is easy if you can discipline yourself to eat just enough calories for your daily needs without compromising on your need for health-enhancing nutrients, which means you must eat seven to 13 servings (up from five to nine previously) of fruits and veggies, together with some whole grains, grass (eg wheatgrass), legumes, nuts and probiotics to provide you with the whole range of nutrients needed to keep you in good health, prevent diseases, and even reverse some diseases.

If your diet is not perfect (as in most cases), you will need supplements.

It takes discipline to eat for health, and not just for the taste, although a healthy diet need not be a boring, bland one. If you like to cook, then it all depends on your creativity. I know a lady pastor who can cook 20 different varieties of tomato dishes, and I love all of them.

Unfortunately, most Malaysians are not disciplined, and most eat too much rice, and too much of many other foods that cause them to be overweight/obese, with high cholesterol/triglycerides, and many end up with diabetes as well.

We are all aware of the fact that well over 60% of adult Malaysians (above 30 years old) are unhealthy if we consider their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or sugar levels, fitness and presence of known diseases such as heart disease, stroke, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. We will not be in such a mess if we were more disciplined when choosing what to eat.

Discipline to avoid or quit smoking

Smoking is an extremely wasteful and harmful habit. However, although the wastage is immediate (literally burning away RM10-20 per day, which could be used for many beneficial things instead), the health damage only comes many years after, so the smokers take a couldn’t-care-less attitude despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that it causes lung cancer and many other lung diseases, promotes many other cancers, heart disease, stroke and a long list of other health problems.

In other words, it is a legal way to slowly cripple oneself or commit suicide.

It takes discipline to not succumb to peer pressure and start smoking; and it takes more discipline to try to quit once you are addicted to it.

Human indiscipline is exemplified by the fact that many of the local ustaz (Muslim religious teachers) continue to smoke despite the fatwa declaring smoking as haram being pronounced many years ago. It takes discipline. Obviously, faith alone is not enough.

Exercise discipline

Having adequate exercise is another health requirement that depends much on our discipline. Ideally, we have to exercise 150 minutes (1.5 hours) per week, best divided into 30 minutes five times a week. However, if you have the time, you can exercise every day. These should include stretching, aerobics, weight-bearing (muscle-building) and qi (life-force)-enhancing exercises.

Most of us are too busy to be able to allocate the time required for exercise, and end up doing very little or none at all. But that is a major mistake, because the time will come when a major health crisis will occur because of the prolonged lack of exercise, and you will end up being unable to work or earn a living, or worse still, become permanently disabled or bed-ridden.

Then you will wish you had given more priority to the need to exercise, eat a nutritious diet and maintain an optimum weight.

If you have not been exercising enough, remember that it is never too late to start. Your body has an immense capacity to recover from the prolonged slackness.

If you have the time and access to the gym, then plan to do at least twice a week of muscle-building exercises (30-60 minutes per session). If you can afford a personal trainer to teach you the right exercises, that is even better.

Whilst it is good to do aerobics exercises daily, you should not do muscle-building exercises every day. You must rest at least one whole day after each session. Muscles take time to grow, and therefore the results will be slow.

The good side is that when you have to miss the gym sessions, the muscles are also slow to shrink away. You can also prevent the muscles from shrinking by doing simple weight-bearing exercises at home (eg push-ups, sit-ups, squats and exercises with dumb-bells).

I have described what seems to be simple solutions to achieving optimum health, but in reality we are all bogged down with too many things that leave little time for exercise. What I regret most is the time wasted going to and from work daily, especially if caught in traffic jams. For many, it is one to two hours daily spent on the road, which is valuable time that could be used to exercise, or spent as quality time with the family.

I have illustrated the importance of discipline in achieving success in the religious/spiritual and health aspects, but the principles apply to all other aspects of life.

Only those who are disciplined will ultimately succeed. But discipline does not mean just following the rules. You can think out of the box, do what others don’t do, and even be an eccentric (eg “a mad scientist”) so that new ideas and innovations will flourish, but it takes discipline and perseverance to follow through these ideas, innovations and inventions until they become successful items or projects.

The culture of discipline must be taught during childhood, so that the child grows up well-imbued with good values and virtues, and will have first hand experience of the power of discipline.


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