Friday, May 10, 2013

Self-discipline revisited

Some time ago, I wrote about the concept of self-discipline, and tentatively agreed with Leo Babauta that this concept must be a myth, because the very idea of discipline implies a distinction, a certain distance between the disciple and the master, which seems to make the concept of self-discipline self-contradictory.   

Now, I am absolutely sure I disagree. There is, in fact, a necessary split within any human being. Anyone who has ever attempted any kind of self-reflection, any mental process that focuses one's attention on one's own inner life (however it might be called in different cultural traditions), knows this split from direct experience: the distinction between the observer and the "processor" (as it were) within oneself. It's enough to try and follow one's own "stream of consciousness" for a while to experience this distance, and the more you do it, the clearer it is. 

The point is, for the purposes of self-discipline, the one who observes can function as the teacher, the master if you wish, for the one who processes (and, ultimately, acts). In other words, if "the observer" is dissatisfied with any thought patterns, feelings, reactions of "the processor", he (or she) can change them (albeit not necessarily without practice); they are not something set in stone: they are just wired in one's neural networks, and those can be consciously rewired. Much easier, in fact, that one might think. There is a whole bunch of science behind this, but I am talking now from my own experience: I have changed things within myself in this way. Some of them, I used to believe, were so deeply rooted in my personal experiences that they had grown into an unchangeable part of who I am. But they simply aren't there anymore, and so I am a little bit closer to the person I want to be.  

I write about this in the "Process and meaning" series, because this kind of self-discipline, self-mastery is a fundamental part of my studio practice (as well as my life in general), its cornerstone. That's why I am often confused when asked about "motivation" and how I find it. One doesn't need any motivations for doing something that is an inherent part of themselves; and what is and what isn't part of myself (and, in the end, what kind of person I am), might be the only thing in life which is fully my own responsibility, my ultimately inalienable right.           

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