The Buddha Walks into the OR, Part 2: Discipline

As promised last week, we’ll have a brief series on the 6 Paramitas, or transcendent actions, and how we can use them as surgeons and leaders. This week I would like to introduce you to the 2nd Paramita, discipline.  I know, if generosity didn’t scare you off, this definitely will; but, again, it shouldn’t.

The concept of discipline isn’t the simplistic version that we tend to think of (being a rigid follower of rules) or the austere religious version that comes to mind (no hairshirts here!). In fact, there’s nothing punitive about the concept of discipline as a Paramita.  Instead, it is a sense of rigor, of precision, of crisp boundaries- the sorts of things that as scientists we tend to find quite satisfying. Discipline in this context is oriented around being fully present in the moment and not getting hooked by stories.

Stop for a minute and think about a time that you created an elaborate story around why someone was late to work, why they let you down, why they didn’t do something that you really had your heart set on them doing. Making up stories is our default- it’s simply something that we do, and it’s how we manage information.  Some of us make up more elaborate and interesting stories than others.  As individuals we tend to create different stories based upon which of the “three poisons” tends to be our default; while some of us tend to passion (grasping/ greed), others are aggressive (anger), and others will ignore (head in the sand). Many times, our stories end up causing suffering- sometimes our own, and sometimes in others as we react to our stories (which may be far removed from the truth).  And yes, we use these stories in our personal lives, but let’s be honest…we use them in the workplace too. We make up a story about someone being unreliable because they’re lazy when the truth is that they have a sick child and are struggling to get by; after multiple days of that person not meeting our expectations, we’ll head to our default poison in our interactions with them.

What we need to be able to do in the moment is realize when we’re making up those stories and to pull back from them, both to ease our own suffering and any suffering we might inflict on that person when we react with grasping, with aggression, with ignorance. You know and I know that once we head into one of our poisons, it’s really, really easy to get stuck there. Instead of assuming and making up those amazing stories, we need to stay curious, we need to ask questions, we need to respond with kindness.  Perhaps we even need to look at that person and offer this up (again, with credit to Brené Brown for this framework):

When you do _____, the story I find myself telling is ____.

This very honest takes us out of blaming the other guy, and it helps them understand your framework.

Here’s the closing thought I’ll offer on the topic of discipline:  while discipline isn’t scary and negative in the way we tend to think of it, it is incredibly hard- perhaps the hardest of the six paramitas.  Those stories are just too much fun.