All my life I was a do-er. I set a goal, made a plan and got things done.
I paid attention to the details. I got it right the first time through planning. I strove and achieved. I worked the plan and the plan worked for me.
Until I couldn't.
What a blow to an ego built on top-10 performance, Exceeds ratings, trust and bestowed responsibility, first-in-her-class, pay cheques that appreciated my contributions.
When my health failed with no immediate explanation, suddenly the "goal" of crossing the room to get a cup of water seemed too monumental to plan for. It wasn't, anymore, just a matter of trying harder, working smarter, pushing through and making it happen no matter what. I fought No Matter What, and What won, hands down.
All my life I had lived by the idea that discipline meant doing more, trying harder, pushing through. I had no idea about the discipline of doing less, reducing expectations, settling into the flow.
IT DROVE ME CRAZY.
Over the last several years I've come face-to-face with the question of who I am, and what is my value, when I'm not the "do-er." As I've been building my health capacity back, I've had to make more changes than I can list. Some were "doing" - taking up a martial art, meditation, shifting my diet. But most of the important discipline I've built has come from re-defining my idea of discipline. For me, discipline had to become less about doing, and more about allowing.
Allowing a bit of clutter to gather because my energy is better spent resting. Allowing the dishes to sit in the sink while I sit and "indulge" in meditation or deep thought. Allowing a meeting to unfold without a tight agenda. Allowing process to build naturally from need. Trusting my skills, knowledge and capability to deal with what comes, rather than planning to death (not quite literally, but...). Accepting what comes when it doesn't match my ideal, my preconceived notion. Making goals smaller, more personal, more incremental, and more celebrated. Allowing twice as much time for anything I plan. Accepting that my monetary rewards may need to take new forms. Allowing myself the space to create, to play with my inner child, to re-connect with the forest. Shifting my definitions of "goals" into a curiosity and an openness that rates my "achievement" by how I feel, how my relationships feel, and how much I've honoured my body and spirit's needs. Working with, not against, the Energy of What Is.
What I used to consider lazy, I must redefine as taking care of myself. Where I once considered any activity without a tangible outcome a waste of my time, I learn to value outcomes that were invisible to me; but, it turns out, are the most critical.
It's like overcoming an addiction to motion, to doing, to achieving, to success. It's the hardest thing I've ever faced. Forcing myself to sit instead of do, to stop instead of go, to watch instead of take action - this kind of discipline felt so foreign it was wrong. And yet, over several years, as I grow my strength, my whole world and way of being has shifted.
There is a message here for everyone, but a special message for those who want to "help" during times of grief, illness, and incapacitation. Bustling in and "doing" for the person will only raise their tension. It brings in the old ideas of what is success, what is expected. I might feel they are judging me against standards I no longer hold, and that can cause a relapse of grief, shame and fear - the worst symptoms of my health crisis. Advice just feels like heaped-on responsibility to live up to someone else's expectations.
As we move into a new economy where jobs are scarce, we will all be re-evaluating what success means, what matters to us, and how we sell our time, our attention and our capacity. It's tempting to just step up our game, do more, meet expectations by working harder. Some of us have the privilege of healthy bodies that still put up with that kind of treatment. But incapacitation, temporary or permanent, will be a factor in every life at some point. Starting to build the discipline of caring for mind, body and spirit into every day life is a first step to being ready.
Today my core strength comes from a new, powerful discipline - the discipline of listening to my body, my spirit and my mind, holding strong to my own definitions (or leaving definitions behind), and staying with the accepting I've added even as my health grows, even when I'm feeling well, to keep as balanced as I can on this roiling ocean.
What is your experience of discipline's role in your life?