The idea of creating discipline in my life is something I've been exploring more deeply lately. What does that word … “discipline” ... evoked in you? Some sort of physical, visceral response? A thought or word? A feeling … maybe a memory or image.
This idea of disciple, both having “too much” of it or “not enough” comes up in session with clients a lot. And, it's something I try to keep mindful of too, as I can swing between these extremes myself. When there's balance between too much and not enough, effort and ease, push and pull, things get done AND you don't end up depleted, and over-worked
Do you see yourself at one end of this continuum or the other. Do you drift toward one then then other seeking balance?
Too much discipline can be harsh and bossy - the limits you place on yourself can be overly rigid, inhibiting, and full of rules and 'shoulds'. They can act out as perfectionism, control, procrastination and feel like pressure and intense anxiety especially as (inevitably) things don't go according to “the plan”. Maybe it all gets too much and you just give up. Pretty much you have no fun and feel disappointed when you don't get through the mountain of stuff you've overcommitted to.
Too little discipline can see you yearning for absolute freedom and rebelling against boundaries – whether they're imposed by yourself or others. You might shy away from responsibility, avoid important tasks, even ones you desire and want. Maybe you're seen as unreliable, unpredictable, a bit reckless? You mightn't have the staying power to see things through and go the distance. Pretty much you're a bit flaky, and maybe you're frustrated because all your good ideas, dreams and desires never seem to gain traction.
And if you swing between the two? (I've got my hand up here).
The key to changing any habit is first to know your personal pattern, to become aware of it, acknowledge it. Start to watch it play out in your life. Watch yourself push, pull, avoid, give up ... Be mindful of your physical, emotional and mental reactions and what's driving them them – old hurts, unhelpful and strongly held beliefs or attitudes - “I'm not good enough” ... “I'll fail” ... “What's the point”?
As soon as you start to notice yourself being sparked or triggered, you give yourself a chance to shift the pattern. Instead of reacting automatically you … pause … slow down … and make a choice. You are proactive. Answer the question, “How do I want to be?” and “What is important to me right now” What small change in your actions can help bring you back to balanced discipline.
It's been helpful for me to re-define discipline as having an attitude of being grounded and flexible at the same time, and being both clear and broad in my focus. Try visualising this attitude as having a form … I like the image that my scaffold is made from lovely strong but flexible bamboo (not a hard immoveable concrete wall or iron track).This helps put in place a structure that keeps me focussed on whatever idea, project or task is at hand, and on my personal path more broadly.
Pema Chodrom reminds us that
“What we discipline is not our "badness" or our "wrongness." What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality. In other words, discipline allows us to be right here and connect with the richness of the moment. ...Within this structure, we proceed with compassion. So on the inner level, the discipline is to return to gentleness, to honesty, to letting go. At the inner level, the discipline is to find the balance between not too tight and not too loose --between not too laid-back and not too rigid … Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess …” When Things Fall Apart : Heart Advice for Difficult Times
True to her message, Pema's sometimes difficult truth - that discipline is necessary - is softened by the reminder to take care, be self-loving on this journey, and to be patient.
I recently returned from a visit to my "home town". My parents still live in the small coastal community I grew up in, and since I left home at 19, it's been a place I return to purely out of daughter duty. Dread is a good description of how I feel when the obligatory visit draws near. My siblings and I have been putting pressure on them lately to sell up and move closer to us ... we worry about them, they are getting older, it is hard for us to get there regularly etc etc ... Being absolutely honest though, my intentions are also selfish - if they moved, I'd never ever have to go there ever again!
... See, I'd never felt like I fit in there - not a particularly original story, I know. I was smart, creative, a little wild, people liked me, but I was also super shy, quiet, and quietly anxious. As a teen, this sense of 'not belonging' magnified into a darkness. To the distress of my confused parents, my young mind tried to overcome the pain with dangerous and self-destructive choices and actions which only led to further hurt, and personal deep shame, and guilt. The place and people in it - all of it and everyone - became associated with the trauma of those years. And returning to it made me confront this shameful past. I just shuddered inwardly, sucked it up and bared it.
Thing is, I've never admitted this to anyone in this way. I didn't even understand it let alone express it to myself or anyone else. My re-tellings of this past were typically dispassionate and tinged with the cringe of regret. But something was shifting. As I found myself returning "home" once more, this time with my 11 year old daughter, I experienced a softness I'd not felt before. I was happy just to sit with my parents and enjoy their company. There was no agitation, no cringe, no heaviness, no deadening boredom. As I walked the neighbourhood, I was acutely aware of the world being washed with a sepia light. My vision it seemed was also seeing things less harshly.
It'd never occurred to me that this was something I needed to heal from. Always figured it was just something to let go of and move on from. I thought I'd "gotten over it".
What was happening though was a forgiving.
First of my young, silly Self, then of the other human beings in the town, past and present, and then the place itself, right down to the beach, the bush, the houses, streets, shops. This unfolded subtly, imperceptibly almost. It was a surprise that didn't become fully conscious for me until driving to the airport to fly back to Brisbane. Going past an old school, shrubby landscapes and resting in a memory of just watching the world go by on a long drive ... the realisation came with a great easing, a vast feeling of warmth and compassion. I hadn't let anything go. I'd taken it all in! Forgiveness made room for acceptance of my past, my mistakes, of mySelf. Through going home, I'd come home to mySelf.
This unfolding has been happening for a while now I can see. It's been a gradual unravelling, a slow opening, facilitated by my dedication to looking inside and reflect, make small shifts in habits and patterns. It was such a wonderful surprise. And, then of course it continues ... this path of evolution of body, mind, and spirit. Until the next unravelling ,<3
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