On Discipline

Whatever you’re trying to do, the best way is always consistency. 10 minutes a day is usually better than 30 minutes every now and then. You would think it’s easier to meditate for just 10 minutes in a day than for 50 minutes every couple of days, but I’ve found the opposite. Sometimes you feel like it, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes there are other things you’d rather do, but the thing with consistency is that it’s a conscious choice. Everyday, you’re saying you prioritize that action or practice over whatever else might come up, and all kinds of shit comes up during the course of a lifetime.

Annie Dillard writes:

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

That’s been my case, that the disruptions to the habits I try to form are usually hedonic. I want to sleep longer; I’d rather go out and have fun with my friends; skipping one day is no big deal; playing a game of Fifa would be way more fun. Dillard equates the life of the spirit to the disciplined practices; people don’t usually try to form consistent habits based around gratifying the senses, but around living what they would consider a better life.

Knowing that hedonic gratifications are fleeting, that staying in bed an extra half hour (provided, of course, I’ve already slept a solid 8 hours) rather than meditating, reading, or making a healthy breakfast, won’t in the long run do me any good is a good step towards bolstering that discipline. Staying out at the bar an hour or two later might feed my desire to have a fun night, but getting home with enough time to write might feed my soul. Framing it like that makes it sound like an obvious choice, but it really isn’t. It’s easy enough to justify anything in the moment. My dedication to the trajectory of my life has to outweigh the various ways I might feel on groggy morning, or the seductive vibe of a raging bar and fine whiskey.

We have to decide what our lives are all about. And we have to make this decision constantly, over and over, in every situation pitting the temporary against the eternal, the days against the lives.

Carl Jung made this choice and put it strongly:

The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance…In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.”

Whatever your decision is, whether you think Jung sounds either delusional or prophetic, make it consciously, intentionally. Don’t let it happen to you. Make it for yourself.

 

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