It is a holiday weekend in the US. Families are gathering, preparing picnics, watching Wimbledon (as I will be, shortly) or their other favorite sports. They’re preparing for foot races under a sizzling sun, for fireworks in the local park, for unwinding.
They are slowing down. Pulling in. Taking a few days off.
I am not.
Though there is no pay for this daily writing, there is compensation; it simulates a job, it keeps my communication skills intact, it gives me a reason to get up, to think, to mold thoughts into something beyond my own worries. It is a process of reaching out during a time in my life when I don’t want to forget how.
Most of the time, this daily routine feels good. But some days, it’s tedious. I’d like to stop. Take a break for a a week or longer. But I’m afraid to let go of the discipline. Afraid I wouldn’t pick it back up. And this is more than routine; it’s survival.
Merriam Webster defines discipline as follows:
orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior : self-control
Yet discipline is also a field of study, as well as:
training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
And that same dictionary defines self-discipline in this way:
correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement
While I am a believer in spontaneity and adventure (and have been known to indulge, happily, in both), I practice discipline (in the extreme?), and self-discipline, when it comes to most things of value in life. In fact I cannot imagine life without discipline, or how I would have made it through my youth, my many jobs, this decade of single parenting, and these strange, solitary days and nights of a cobbled-together existence that I grapple with, uneasily, at the moment.
A prescribed pattern of behavior? Check. Writing.
Training that molds or perfects mental faculties? Check. Writing. (My moral character is fine, thanks – though writing eases me into examination of a variety of personal and social issues that generate conversation.)
Regulation of oneself for self-improvement? Check. Again, writing. Not only for the flow of words, but the exercise of curiosity, of research, of seeking out humor, of finding – and offering – solace.
Discipline – Enemy of Creativity?
To me, the issue of discipline is very tricky when it comes to creativity – pushing boundaries, experimentation, following your own path… whatever you choose to call it when you don’t see things the way others do. Discipline may seemingly be about order, but to me it isn’t necessarily about convention but about rigorous work ethic in the service of your vision, in order to execute.
Where does this leave the painter, the poet, the musician, the architect – who does not see what he or she creates in the framework that is traditional? Does this mean abandoning “discipline” – regular hours, pouring over details, working and reworking a draft verse or design over and over until it feels right?
The artist cannot confuse discipline with “following rules.” Discipline is self-control, remember? Self-control applied as he needs it to bring his vision to life.
Discipline in diet and exercise
Most of us think about the word discipline when we are following a new diet or health regimen. Perhaps to lower cholesterol or lose 20 pounds. Maybe it’s more critical than that – to climb out of the well of illness, or to regain strength following an injury. Maybe it’s to put the pieces together emotionally after a break-up, a child leaving home, a long period of grieving.
Certainly, the attention to details – a wonderful side effect of discipline’s practical application – serves to distract us from pain. Focus and routine eventually provide the opportunity to congratulate ourselves on “getting through,” to recognize improvement, to nurture hope that we may accomplish our goals. This sort of discipline comes easily to some and hard to others – the regimen of eating and exercising that will restore some sense of balance to the body, and likely to the spirit.
Discipline in the act of survival
I have always defined myself by the ability to get things done, to persist through whatever comes my way, and yes, to some extent, to do it all. To achieve. I have also defined myself by quality. “Good enough” has never felt sufficient, and I’ve driven myself to excel. That often means pushing beyond reasonable boundaries, which in turn takes its toll on the body. On health.
Survival comes in many forms. Self esteem in an abusive household. Physical safety, in those same circumstances. Hanging on to something like home, and providing something like “normalcy” when money is gone, when jobs are few and far between. Being a parent, when the going gets tough, and the tough hang in because their survival is essential so that children may flourish.
Discipline is my Crazy Glue, the mental and physical structure that helps keep me going even when I’m out of oil for the wheels, the air is siphoned from my lungs, and my legs seem like they won’t hold me through the last mile of the race. Routine is the necessary companion to discipline; together, they may simulate purpose when it seems foggy.
Discipline in life
Life is about showing up. No, I don’t mean the current conversation about “being present.” I mean something else entirely. Showing up each day to fight it out – whatever “it” is – solitude, physical challenges, questioning faith or parenting or your role. Examining your choices, your values. Life is often about going through the motions, yet even in that it remains a gift.
I believe that we each matter, that our small dreams in the grand scheme are important, though we seem tiny at times. In quiet hours. In nature. In the massiveness of our planet’s problems.
- Does discipline come easily to you?
- Are you disciplined in one area of life and less so in others?
- Does discipline save you, when you’re tired or feeling lost?
Discipline in writing
Writing is also about about showing up. For me, this daily writing – often hurried, often barely edited, often at the expense of doing other things for myself – this is the necessary nourishment I afford myself each morning. It is my act of faith, my manner of harboring hope, my practice, my prayer, my respect for life, my insistence on the art of life even when I must manufacture enthusiasm for getting out of bed.
I have often wondered if I confuse discipline with control, or self-control in ways not intended by the easy definition cited above.
Discipline and control blur. Discipline around an activity that isn’t important, or that serves as a distraction, is pointless discipline.
I have wondered if I confuse stubbornness with perseverance, and those traits also overlap. Then I let go of those distinctions, and believe them to be immaterial; the act of writing each day, whether I wish to or not, reminds me that I can still perform a job, whatever the level of fatigue or other issues going on, wherever I may be, and whichever “me” is taking her turn on a given day – the woman, the writer, the mother, the art advocate, the marketer; even the child.
And so – in an undisciplined fashion I will not “edit.” Instead, I will turn to holiday activities after all. It’s time for Breakfast at Wimbledon, and watching exceptional athletes who take discipline to the highest levels possible.