Discipline: Stop When it Makes Sense

A thing I learned about pursuing discipline: stop when it makes sense because it makes sense.

I am a recovering quitter. Much of my life, I chronically wanted to quit things. I got bored sometimes, but usually I just freaked out. I felt like an imposter or incapable or just simply not enough. My mode in those years: apply, get accepted, do stuff, work hard, be on the cusp of something great-adjacent, freak out, want to quit, throw a fit. I finished plenty, though the fit and freak out were nearly always there. Like plagues. Plagues I created.

More recently, I’ve worked on finishing. Even if it was a slog. Even if nobody else thought it was necessary or important or useful. I did this in secret, the finishing. And it was not a wonderful antidote to quitting.

This year, studying discipline, I learned that there is actually a happy medium, just like my mama always said there was. I tend toward extremes. All or nothing. Recently, I pulled back from social media for 2018, and I joked to my husband that it was an all-or-nothing thing. It wasn’t. Not this time. My accounts still exist; I’ve chosen to not visit them in 2018.

I could have quit social media, which has taught me a ton about craft and the world and put me in contact with some amazing folks, when it started to resemble a trash fire most of the time. I could have punished my former quitter by staying and getting burned more often than not, especially as touches my depression and anxiety. Instead, I decided to step back.

Maybe after a year away, I’ll terminate the accounts and know it’s the right thing for me. Maybe I’ll be ready to wade back in and give someone else room to rest a while if they want. I don’t know.

In October, I packed all my stuff. My entire office and studio. But I kept out a few measly art supplies and started Inktober. It was fun! And then the move arrived, I packed the supplies, and I didn’t finish. Because that’s what made sense.

When we moved to Florida in summer, we expected it was relatively permanent. We did not set our sights on moving back or on moving elsewhere. We unpacked, started schools, sought out the best restaurants, did all the things you do when you relocate. Our house in Oklahoma was on the market. The move was real and solid. We were all in. During the hurricane, we evacuated to Oklahoma because we still had a house and Husband could work from a location there. School was out about two weeks; it made sense. When we returned, we returned. To work and school and life. The week after returning, the option to work from Oklahoma arose, and Husband and I discussed it.

For all the suffering of mid-spring – mine and my family’s because of mine – I had truly made peace with the move and the decision. I told Husband so. I told him that, for my part, the decision had been right and I was all-in. I also told him, “just because coming was the right decision when we made it, that doesn’t mean we have to stay either.” The opportunity to return to Oklahoma surprised us and saying yes would reverse our course, but that didn’t make it unworthy of consideration. For his part, Husband shared his own wisdom, but that’s his story.

This is not a conversation I could have had a year ago. I don’t know how it would have gone, but I’m certain this would not have been the way.

Discipline is going on green and stopping on red. [Yellow, of course, is a matter of your personal risk profile.] Discernment is knowing within yourself when the light changes in your situation. I find the two to be inescapably linked, discernment and discipline. I wish I had either (or both!) perfectly, but I don’t and never will. So I content myself to watch the lights change and do what is right when it’s right to the best of my ability.

Discipline: Capacity to Wonder

I’ve talked a couple of times (at least) about my theme of discipline leading me to a book [Spiritual Disciplines Handbook], which led me to a specific discipline (mindfulness), which asked me to pray for a greater capacity to wonder. This post is how this year’s theme increased my capacity to wonder in nonmiraculous ways.

As a Christian, I believe in the power of some prayer – different discussion – and I believe that very often the power is distributed through natural or human channels. It’s the parable-ized sermon of the man in a flood on top of his house. He prays to God for deliverance and says no to a boat, a helicopter, and other assistance, depending on your preacher, probably. It’s an argument happening in our nation right now with guns, mental health, and sexual assault. Thoughts and prayers are only as good as the actions that follow them and that are based on a God who loves all and equally.

I digress.

The first time I prayed for an increased capacity to wonder, I was angry. I felt belligerent. I basically dared God to do something. And then my husband’s job took us to Florida in June. The first out-of-state move of our married lives (19 years). Lots of factors were in play in the move: husband, his place of employment, my mental health, et cetera. One outcome to which I clung in desperation: maybe this – seeing and experiencing so much newness – will increase my capacity to wonder.

And it did. But not in a straight line. Certainly not in a straight line from my lips to God’s ear to wonderment. Even when you pray and even when God responds affirmatively, you still have choices to make. God forces himself on no one. It’s consent all the way.

Florida offered so many chances to be inspired. The ocean. Well, the gulf, but still. A larger body of water than I’d ever seen. Sugary sand. Friendly strangers. Beautiful everyday stores like Lowes and Target. Flowering trees that seemed to never not blossom. Water everywhere. Frogs EVERYWHERE. Fitting my office into a space one-third the size of my previous space. Lizards scurrying at home, at the store, at school. An alligator living in the pond in the back yard. The promise of a manatee sighting if you were just in the very right spot at the very right time. Teachers fluent in at least English and Spanish, with documents sent home in those two plus Creole. The swamp sanctuary. Lack of sales tax on groceries! This thing where you go outside and sit on a porch that’s screened and feel at peace. Hurricane prep, evacuation, and recovery. Florida gave me lots of opportunities to marvel, to step back in wonder.

My capacity did not increase. Only my sensitivity did.

When we were in the process of house hunting and such, I asked people: how often do you see alligators? Or, do you ever get hurricanes? Down to a person, they all said, “I’ve lived here X years and I saw one alligator this one time…and hurricanes don’t hit the WEST coast of Florida because reasons and barrier islands!”

Those people were not lying. Yet, perhaps they had become too familiar with the place. Maybe everything had become a bit common.

In October, just shy of four months after moving to Florida, we headed back to Oklahoma to replant our searching roots. We returned to the house that had not yet sold. Our kids returned to the schools they knew. We reengaged in our church congregation. Our family embraced us. Target was totally remodeled, but that was the only major difference.

Except for me. I was totally remodeled, too. Not the outside, sorry. On the inside. My capacity to wonder did grow because I wanted it to, because I used my working senses to inhabit my world.

You see, wonder is not about trees that always blossom or (in Oklahoma this fall) leaves that won’t go without a fight, bruising purple, orange, yellow. It’s not the smell of freshly baked cookies or the sound of laughter or waterfalls. I can see (with glasses), hear (with one ear at least), smell, taste, and touch, and yet I thought I asked to increase my ability to wonder. What I didn’t understand was that I really asked to open a space inside myself to let wonder gather. I asked to increase my actuality of noticing. The little things. The big things. The medium things. I asked, without knowing it, to see and hear and experience with my mind and not my senses alone.

In April, I would have said, “Be careful asking to increase your capacity to wonder; you just might move across the country.” Today, I say, “Always ask for the things you want and then look for them where you don’t expect them.”

This is a discipline of openness. Of throwing open the windows of your soul and figuring out later that you really meant it.