“I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself.”
– Pietro Aretino (Italian author, playwright, and poet of the sixteenth century)
Walking from Gomukha to Gangotri in the Himalayan snow was a happy experience. Over twenty years ago when I trekked these ranges, there were hardly any facilities for overnight stay. In the small ashrams, the rules were strict- we had to rise early and attend the morning and evening prayers. Even if you feel sick, you were accountable to the ashram authorities. Amish, a friend of mine, accompanied me to the Himalayas. He struggled with the obligatory schedules but took it in a sporting spirit. When we returned to Mumbai a month later, he reminisced about our treks and declared, “I am glad I performed the austerity to rise early. I can feel the difference in my consciousness; discipline is healthy and makes my mind strong.”
Today I met Amish and his family again in Mumbai, two decades after our rendezvous in the Himalayas. We relived our memories and flipped through the old photographs. Amish was just out of college then; today he is married and has two beautiful children. Turning to Seema, his wife, he said, “Those few days of rigor and discipline were the best days of my life.” Then, as an afterthought, he turned to Seema and back to me, and said, “I am grateful I have a wonderful partner; she is my best friend. Still, those days when I traveled with a few monks and possessed no money are most memorable. In retrospect, the austerity of a cold water bath, living with simple wants, and saying no to sense pleasures, is a heavenly experience. I saw self-control bring me immense joy. ”
Most people seek pleasures on the external, bodily level. Very few, like Amish on that fateful trip to the Himalayas, chose to discover internal happiness that’s not dependent on physical comfort. In fact, for many with a life-enriching purpose, discipline doesn’t seem all that exciting at that particular point of time; it’s rather painful. Later, however, you reap a bountiful harvest of honorable contentment. That’s because as Abraham Lincoln said, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” The road of restraint may be hard, but the results are invaluable.
To be continued…