Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Create Space

Discipline is creating space and then guarding that space.

This whole thing started more than a year ago, though it took me months to find my footing. I knew I wanted to practice discipline in 2017, but I thought it meant a lot of counting all the things I would accomplish and tracking my progress. A preacher happened to give a well-timed message in which he said that discipline is creating space in which God can work in your life. That changed the course of my year. And my perspective.

When I stopped looking at discipline as a matter of will and started seeing it as actively enlarging a space, life got…well, it got difficult for a while. I hated it. The whole first quarter of 2017, I resisted everything. I saw my theme as a sort of curse I’d called down on my own head. Had inviting myself to create space actually made my world bigger?

It had sounded so grand; reality was less appealing. If you’ve read this blog this year, you know the story: moved across the country, hurricane, moved back, depression and anxiety and general me-ness. First quarter resistance (plus depression resurgence). Second quarter tolerance. Third quarter acceptance. In the fourth quarter, I finally found myself embracing the space.

Whether you practice a discipline that is spiritual, mental, or physical, whether social, political, or personal, whether vocational or avocational – know that you are both creating space and guarding the space until it becomes usable.

You can dream of the space to work or to live or to be, but first you need the space. Discipline ensures you create the space. When the work begins, you may not be prepared to inhabit the space, and the space may not be prepared for you. I believe in a God I worship and serve; a God who is not arbitrary and who works with my life when I allow. I don’t know what you believe in – God, the universe, human effort. We may disagree. No matter how we believe or how disparately, the equation is the same: discipline = space for work to happen.

Guard the space until you can fill it, until you can live through it and truly make it your habitation. Treat it as the sometimes-frustrating, sometimes-exhilarating, always-in-progress sanctuary that it is. That it can be. While the work happens, look for other spaces to open.

May your new year be filled to overflowing with the very things you need – first to survive, then to thrive!

Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Continue in Uncertainty

One aspect of discipline most Americans know intimately this year: continue in uncertainty with the tools at hand.

November 2016 brought a crushing blow to many optimists (and also a crushing blow to everybody else, whether they knew it or not). Un/Fortunately, I’m a pessimist via depression and anxiety. The election did not surprise me. But, like much of the world, it saddened me and weighed heavily on me. It frightened me on behalf of lots of people I love. I wrote about a little ring I bought myself with the words “be here now” stamped into it. I had bought the thing to remind myself not to be brought down by ruminations or future fantasies. I used it last November to ground myself in the uncertainty of the moment.

Even though I knew the theme for 2017 last November, it had not yet gestated into anything I could write about last November. Or December. Or January. It was late in February before I introduced a theme I’d been thinking about, dreaming about, and working towards for months.

Beyond what was happening in the dizzying news cycle, I tried to act like everything was normal while waiting to hear whether we were moving. So, I wrote about parental connectedness as a discipline. Having begun reading about my theme from a few great resources, I introduced the resources as a sort of accountability: hey, I’m doing this thing, I promise. The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook got me started on a focal point (mindfulness). I talked about morning pages.

Then life got much too real for me to stick to safe, surface statements on the greatness of discipline. You see, discipline started to require something of me. Depression resurged when I found out we were moving. I basically went dark, consumed with the struggle to live and to keep going.

I didn’t blog at all during the move and settling. What could I say? I had distilled no lessons. Everything was survival all the time, until the slow crawl back toward light.

In August, I ventured forth to talk about raising boys while white because Charlottesville happened. Because I don’t know if I’m doing enough. But I’m doing something. And I know a lot of other people who also don’t know if they’re doing enough. Starting with raising decent kids who love humans – not the worst start.

Enter hurricane, evacuation, return, and the decision to move back to Oklahoma, which was only very loosely connected to the foregoing.

November 8, 2017, I sat down at this keyboard and wondered how a work-in-progress like myself could add anything to the cacophony that can be the internet. It turned out that I had distilled several lessons over the last year, and I was finally in a place I could communicate them. To myself if no one else. I went back to the beginning, the first thing I encountered on this discipline journey: a prayer to increase my capacity to wonder. Without that lesson, that prayer that I got so wrong, none of the others would have shaken out quite the same.

This is the next-to-last post on my discipline theme, but the lessons will reach much further. Why did I spill nearly 500 words recounting what my blog archives could have told you? Because it was my path through uncertainty.

I used morning pages (though I did switch to handwritten) and I formed a The Artist’s Way sacred circle with three other fantastic artists. I read loads of books and learned and pushed. I attended therapy and took my medications. I kept going. I wish I had a special equation to hand you or keep in my hip pocket enlightening the way to get through uncertainty (especially the uncertainty of depression). I don’t. It may only be in retrospect that we can see the tools that were at hand, the ones that carried us bit by bit through it.

When I look back up at that still-dizzying news cycle, whatever else I feel, which can be a lot, I am thankful. For free press. For brave men and women who do their jobs well – whether governance, investigation, or communication. For other brave people who tell the truth when it benefits them nothing. For those fighting a two-generation war over which they have no control. For makers. For sustainers. For students and teachers. For healers and providers and the people doing the work no one else wants to do or remembers to appreciate. For families, however defined, and for friendships that lift up others. For my people, who kept and keep faith with me through it all. All of these people are part of surviving uncertainty. Tools are for boxes, and we should use them whenever handy. People, though, they are for everything.

Take good care of both.

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