Monday, February 25, 2013

A disciple

Sonnet 26: To witness duty, not to show my wit. 20"×20". Oil on linen
I've been thinking about the concept of "discipline" over the last few days, partly inspired by some recent conversations on G+, partly just by observations. 

It is nowadays quite a remarkable semantic network, which has apparently lost its "core", the original meaning of systematic instruction, teaching, learning. But the core still holds this whole network of meanings together: what else do "punishment" and "a field of study" have in common? But not, of course, the more modern and fashionable "fun-oriented" instruction, which turns a mentor into an entertainer for bored students. 

The concept I've been thinking about is rather the "self-discipline" aspect of "discipline", which, as it seems, replaces an external mentor or teacher with one's own willpower. Indeed, any conversation about developing/increasing one's self-discipline seems to split a self into an untrained disciple and the super-self, the willpower, enforcing an order. Here Leo Babauta makes the case that this scenario is a myth. 

For the time being, at least, I think I agree with him: I don't see how this particular brand of bootstrapping can work. It seems likely to me that the internal mental structure that makes one look (or even be) self-disciplined is created by some version of instruction, not necessarily in any formal old-fashioned term, but still a prolonged disciple-mentor relationship, which would involve obedience based on implicit trust. A level of trust sufficient to follow a learning path which might not be fully clear or enjoyable to the disciple at every turn. In other words, I believe most "self-disciplined" people used to be trustful disciples at some point (whether they recognized it at the time or not). 

But once this internal mental structure is created, one doesn't need any external forces or rewards to follow their chosen path. As far as I am concerned, it's really worth it.         


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