I Don’t Want To

For the next 90 minutes, focus on yourself, my yoga teacher instructs. His voice is vanilla handkerchiefs and baby sparrows and soothing, unflappable caretaker. Listen to your breathing. Be present. Quiet your mind.

I take a few breaths and align my toes and heels, but as class begins, I can’t get off the hamster wheel in my wretched, grasping mind. And then there are these yoga pants, which fit me funny and make my ass look like a spaceship. And someone behind me would do us all a favor if she rethought her approach to personal hygiene. And what is up with my bumpy, weird toes that channel my grandmother? And then there is my momentary obsession with not staring at the shag carpet of back hair on the guy in front of me.

Be present. Listen to my breathing. Quiet my mind.

So I try. I really do. I feel myself trying, and then I feel myself trying to get out of my way and not try so hard. My trying becomes the loudest thing in the room. It’s a marching band that no one but me can hear. I want my training and discipline to kick in, so I can be all Namaste and still and gooey with compassionate inner peace. But: It’s. Just. Not. Happening.

Five or six poses later my eyes settle into a glazed focus. My caffeinated inner chatter subsides. My head hums with the white noise nothingness of my own exertion. Effortless effort enfolds me, and I’ve finally lassoed my self-discipline. How can I coax it into coming around more often? Am I the only one whose self-discipline has commitment issues?

My fickle relationship with discipline could be partially semantic. The word carried mixed messages in my childhood. My elementary school neural paths still consider discipline bad. Very bad. Discipline meant I had done something wrong. It meant sour nuns thwacking my knuckles with a ruler. Or standing in front of the class with my nose pressed into the center of a chalk circle drawn onto the blackboard. Discipline connoted punishment, submitting, shaming. The way I saw it then: The architecture of discipline is should, a should I had unknowingly neglected to fulfill.

On the other hand, in catechism class we learned about the Disciples, the righteous Biblical posse of followers and philosophers. A disciple, or disciplined one, hewed to the origins of the Latin word disciplina, meaning instruction given, learning, teaching. So disciples were good and hung around in robes and had deep thoughts and by extension, discipline in my child’s mind also had its goodness, its potent pixie dust.

Then adolescence and young adulthood descended, bringing with it the swamp of social messages about how I was supposed to look, act and feel. I could get There, the messages said, through hard work, the right car, thin thighs, and willpower. I thought of discipline and willpower as synchronized swimmers performing their maneuvers in the same pool. Discipline: It was a commodity, an agent that could get me where I wanted to go. It was a hidden internal fuel reserve that needed spiritual fracking to be unleashed and dispatched. Discipline, as I saw it then, was attainable, but the process for getting to it was fraught, messy and carried unforeseen hazards that could spell trouble for my ecosystem.

Now I am miles away from my young adult self, and I feel the power of the Kryptonite of middle age upon me, detonating calcified ideas that once held powerful sway to render me a crippled, babbling mess. I’ve come to view discipline not as a trait or a commodity or a punishment, but as a skill. As something to be practiced. Something to fail at. Something to succeed in. Something to honor — not fear.

These days I see discipline as a pact my best self makes with my whole self in wide and quiet times to reach toward something higher than I might be able to see when my lazy self shows up and starts getting bossy. Discipline calls out instant gratification for the candy-ass oxymoron it is.

So I stand in my yoga class, heels and toes together. My mind is quiet. I listen to my breath. I am present even though that may mean that my mind races like Chihuahuas on crack. That’s okay because I am also soft and waiting and making a warm place on my blanket for my self-discipline to sit when it arrives.

As I know it will.

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