by Christine Kane
One of the biggest problems with the word discipline for me has been in its context. The people who preach discipline have always been a little scary to me. The Zig Ziglars of the world. And the surest way for a message not to reach me is to have it delivered by an uptight thin-lipped Texas-accented Ray-Crock-loving white boy.
But the problem with mistrusting the message just because the messenger reminds you of the bad guys in To Kill a Mockingbird is that you miss out on some would-be good stuff if you let it run through your own filter. And I have come to rather like the word discipline. I like the word “disciple.” (Though I would’ve made a horrible one.)
This year, I chose three words for my year. One of them is “discipline.” I chose it because I want to acknowledge that I haven’t had an eating disorder in many many years and I can now embrace this word and know how to use it without beating the living crap out of myself. And besides, if I live my life defining myself by an old dysfunction, then I miss out on a lot of possibilities for further expansion. After all, it’s much easier to see myself as a victim of this culture and allow myself to stay stuck in limiting behavior than it is to jump into the unknown.
After having gone through what I’ve been through, body issues and all, I now believe wholeheartedly in discipline. I approach the word differently now. A kinder, gentler discipline, perhaps. So, I’ll call this approach “Discipline for the Emotionally Prone.” There are two steps involved in this process as of right now. There may be more as I am further enveloped by new levels of wisdom…
Step 1: Don’t ask yourself how you feel about doing something.
Obviously, deciding that you want to do something, be it a writing practice, a meditation practice, or starting a new business is the first step. The next step is simple, but not always easy. You just do it. You define the steps involved, and you do them. It’s best if they are in small chunks, i.e. “Write for a half hour a day,” rather than big chunks, i.e. “Complete a novel by July.” It’s also best if you do them at the exact same time each day. Discipline is needed especially for the first weeks of these kinds of projects. After that, it becomes habit more than discipline. And discipline is really about just sitting down and doing it and not asking yourself how you’re feeling about it all today.
I started going to the Y every morning at 5:30am when I’m not on tour. I chose to do this after reading about the enneagram. The enneagram is similar to the popular Myers-Briggs personality types, only it goes deeper. It’s not about personality as much as it is about learning all of your ego strategies for hiding the truth of who you really are. Anyway, for those curious… I’m a four. My husband is a five. In one book we were reading, the text said that four is the center for eating disorders and five is the center for suicide. And I looked my husband and said, “Well, between us, we should have no problem attracting friends!” It also said that fours and fives are the numbers that benefit most from exercise because it will help some of that sensitivity. And about a year ago, we both decided to go to the Y every morning.
So, when the alarm goes off at 5am, I have two options. The first option is that I can whine. I can lay there and feel myself ensconced in flannel and down and mattress and cat and man, and I think of how cold the world is and I think of those hideous fluorescent lights at the Y and how bad they make everyone look. (It’s really true. They’re just awful.) And all of my voices say, “You don’t want to go pedal in place on that ridiculous elliptical thing with five TV screens showing Fox News! You’re an artist! You should lay here ensconced in flannel! We like the word ensconced!” Or, I can get up and stop asking myself how I feel about this decision. This may seem cruel, but it’s a very good practice for me. I get up and get on my clothes and stop that thought process. If I listened to those voices all the time, I’d be sitting watching West Wing re-runs everyday for hours.
Step 2: Repeat Step 1 As Necessary.
I used to think that being an artist meant that my days would be spent hanging around, drinking coffee, going to cafes, writing only when I felt like it, living spontaneously and looking a lot more like the movie “Like Water for Chocolate.” And I do have lots of hours and days when I get to hang out, watch the sun set, visit an old cemetery, make a collage, or write because I feel like it. But the reality is a lot more about day-to-day habits and writing routines than you’d imagine. The truth is, most professional artists I know work steadily and they work hard. They also recognize the reality of the business side of what they do. And they honor the challenges involved by honoring their creating time and by facing the business time head on.
When I’m not on the road, the first part of my day is spent writing. I schedule the time because I have to. I have oodles of free time when I’m home, and if I don’t schedule it, I’ll spend the morning reading and writing emails, or I’ll think of some thing my accountant wanted me to get to him. Anything but sit with my guitar and write.
Much of the time, I don’t feel like writing. Especially if I’m stuck on a part of a song, or things don’t flow, or the writing wasn’t good yesterday. But I go back to step one and stop asking myself my opinion, or my emotional temperature and I just sit and do the writing or stare at the guitar or play a few chords, then I consider it a victory. And let’s say that one day I do get lured into email by the Gods of Distraction, the beauty of discipline (am I really saying this?) is that tomorrow I get to repeat Step 1 (because you know that the voices will be telling me that I shouldn’t bother since I already screwed up yesterday), and get back to it. The diminishment of perfectionism is the most valuable result of Step 1. Things are required to cease being big deals. You just show up.
When you have a job, everyone expects you to show up.. When you’re in a dance company, everyone expects you to show up. When you’re a writer with a publishing deal in Nashville, your co-writers expect you to show up (as well as the publishing company that’s paying you.) When you’re on your own as a business owner, a writer, a painter, a potter, you are the only one expecting you to show up. (This can really suck sometimes.) And for me, discipline has become that person on the other end knowing that there is a deeper and longer lasting satisfaction than just flannel sheets and “West Wing.” (Though even as I write that, a little part of me sighs with longing.)