Friday, April 23, 2010

resistance and discipline

I woke up this morning, at whatever unholy hour I usually wake up because of the dogs here barking at unauthorized cats, or in solidarity with the dogs barking in the surrounding square mile--usually 3-4am. On a good night, they don't bark right outside my window.

My mid-sleep mental state is usually pretty mellow, but today I was experiencing my resistance to teaching. I wasn't satisfied with the lesson I've been running all week, but then there's just...resistance. So I was angsting, and scared, and nervous. And practicing. I'd get anxious. I'd see the anxiety, laugh because it's the same performance anxiety I've always experienced, and pinch it off at the root and let it float away. Every time I'm faced with the risks of performing somehow, I feel this: with all my singing, with aikido tests, but even more so when I acted, because I don't reliably remember lines, and with acting, it's all me. I'm right there, the thing that people are staring at, it's my turn to carry the thread of the performance all by myself and holy crap.

But I push through it, and I get up and do what I'm doing, and (now, at least, after years of growing up and aikido and Zen practice) I'm very present in what I do, and it goes well.

I find this duality-of-mind fascinating. I've been trying for months to write an essay on discipline, unsuccessfully, because I have trouble articulating what discipline actually means in practical terms. The reality of it is that on one level, I often don't want to go to aikido class, or sit zazen in the morning, or whatever; and then, most often, I do it anyway, because...why, exactly? The reasons have varied over time, and in my reasons I don't find any thread of continuity to excuse my eccentric behavior of spending 3 years sitting relatively still every morning for 40 minutes, or 7 years of doing aikido 3-4 times per week.

Except, maybe, there's sort of a direction. Not an ideal, not a target self-image, not a target self, but an...impulse, a motion, an attraction like gravity. I intuitively sense a pattern of how I want to be in the world, how I want to move and intersect with everyone else's lives, how I want to relate to other people, what I want to be able to do to respond to their needs, and my own.

I think discipline is to set aside the most transient of our desires and insecurities, our daily contortions to seek pleasant things and avoid unpleasant things, to work for the growth of something bigger, something we feel is important than our moment-to-moment comfort. When we learn we can do that for something deeply important to us, we learn we can do it for anything we choose: we discover our power to make choices and steer ourselves, despite our habits of mind telling us to stay on the couch and eat an entire bag of Trader Joe's Cheese Crunchies.

(Shut UP.)

I don't know. What do you think? What does discipline mean to you?

1 comment:

  1. I would describe lack of self-discipline as my most massive, glaring, disappointing flaw. It's something that made my life as a teenager and young adult really, really shitty, because I refused to do schoolwork under just about any circumstances. No amount of horrible grades, sincere and earnest teachers, or screaming tirades from my parents would turn me around. I just categorically did not give enough of a shit to make the effort.

    Unfortunately for me, because I spent most of my formative years resisting giving a shit about anything other than computers, I've turned out to be an adult who has an incredibly difficult time motivating to do anything even a little bit difficult. Even things that, on some theoretical level, I really want to be good at, self-starting is a major hurdle. You've watched me try to develop programming skills at a glacial pace. I make a lot of excuses. Learning the guitar has been a similar experience. In my mind, I would love to be able to play the guitar really well, but when it comes time to practice it can be almost comical the lengths I will go to to avoid it.

    I spent a lot of time between the ages of 17-22 trying to figure out WHY I'm like this. The only thing I came up with was that I think I'm irrationally afraid of failure, so I avoid attempting difficult things. It fits in with the school thing and some bad teachers and bullying I experienced as a kid, but it's funny how even now I have a difficult time getting past it.

    Setting goals helps, but I have found that I sometimes set impossible ones. I need to work to break the discipline and learning process down into the smallest chunks, then make time for them, and then follow through on it.

    I really should get back to that Android app I've been wanting to write...