Sunday, August 16, 2009

on discipline

i return to the work force in just under an hour. i'm ambivalent. i worry that returning to the workforce, a relatively steady income, and that crazy place called the university of texas will undo me, will somehow take away all the progress, soul-searching, and craft-building i have done both in this past summer and over the last two years.

despite this ambivalence, i know i can actually continue, maybe even accelerate my work. the key is discipline.

discipline has been on the mind a lot. sometimes, i'll find myself saying, "when i start earning this much," or "when i get this resource." but this is just an excuse to put off discipline. anne bogart talks said during a podcast, "work the way you want to work now." she also wrote in her chapter on "resistance" that we must always commit to where we are now, or else what we need will never come.

excuses. that's what makes us avoid discipline. it's not easy to pursue discipline, that's why it's called discipline--it's hard.

sometimes, conditions will foster discipline, sometimes discipline comes at extreme cost. and sometimes, it's important to let go of discipline. we also need to be gentle when we fall off-punishing ourselves and therefore taking the joy out of what we do. being too disciplined--inhuman, in many ways--makes the discipline rigid, totalitarian, and dead.

the thing is, discipline is a gift. it is a way we tell ourselves: this is the time to do that thing that is what we want. it is a vehicle for joy, even if we need convincing every time.

i have a friend who wakes early every morning to take care of his orchids. i've heard his partner tease him about this, and i would giggle at his hobby. even though this daily care would drive me crazy with its idiosyncracies and pretty demanding schedule, the occasional parasites, my friend makes it look so easy. the teasing rolls off his back. but i imagine, it's not easy all the time. i imagine, he must undergo constant negotiation. but it's so clear by the way he goes about his morning chores: it gives him absolute joy. what a gift that is, to wake up every morning to joy, even if the extent of that joy might fluctuate daily.

this friend of mine has always struck me as very disciplined. thinking back on what i've known about him for over a decade, his discipline seems to be at the core of him. and he's far from a robot--there are many things he is not so disciplined about. and he is generally pretty laid back.

i think that part of my difficulty is that i'm too ambitious about my discipline. i want to be disciplined about everything all at once--my creative production, my creative consumption, my relationships, my politics, my economic wealth, my physical fitness, my public persona, my spiritual growth. i try to turn over too many new leaves at once.

i can hold that kind of discipline for everything for maybe 10 days, tops. then, inevitably, my discipline will falter--i'll oversleep or miscalculate. then i throw up my hands and give up, at least for a little while. so i get things done in emotionally taxing jags of 10 days followed by weeks of procrastination.

when i was at siti, i only needed to be disciplined about a few things. i let go of my looks, my "life style, food preparation. but i spent a full four weeks extremely disciplined about my creative production and consumption, my relationship to the world, my physicality and my spiritual growth. then, a curious thing happened. i found that i felt attractive, i began to be careful about the food i ate, and my political compass was becoming clearer and brighter. because i focused on certain types of discipline, i became more disciplined in other ways, too.

i must commit to what and where i am right now. and that happens to be someone who is returning to being an administrator. but more importantly, an artist who now has access to a new resource.