Discipline: The Good and the Bad of it

Meet the deadline. Check the box. Hit the mark.

Structure. Boundaries. Organization.

It’s all good when it helps you stay on course.

It’s not so good when it holds you back.

After I had my first baby, I had an epiphany that sort of went like this: ‘Oh, my body needs to be cared for; my mind needs to be cared for; my heart needs to be cared for…huh…I guess I can’t just sit back and wait for all of that to happen…’

And so it began: my love affair with discipline.

I fell deep.

Every day, no matter what: I did what I thought I had to do to take care of myself—my body, my heart, my mind, my work. Meditate.Yoga.Running.Writing. On task. On course. Disciplined. Dedicated. Devoted.

And it worked really, really great…until it didn’t.

It’s funny how something that is really good for you can shift into something that, well…isn’t anymore.

That’s what happened to me. I found that I had become so rigid in my structure that I was missing out on the spontaneity of life—the joy, the freedom, the expansion. Yet, I was so afraid that if I let things go…even just a tiny bit…everything would collapse.

It took my third child to snap me out of it. Babies have a very unsubtle way of shattering any and all structure. And this one really shook things up. No matter how hard I tried he would not conform to any type of structure, whatsoever. The only thing I could count on was that he would definitely not sleep, eat, or poop on a regular schedule.

So, I had to let go of it all: the yoga, the meditation, the reading, the writing, the running…I grabbed a moment here and there, but for the most part it all just dissolved for a while.

And you know what?

It was one of the very best things that could have happened to me.

You know why?

Because instead of falling apart, it all just fell into place.

Chaotic. Messy. Unstructured. It was a perfect storm.

Since my meditation practice was no longer a scheduled seated event, I practiced all day: while breastfeeding, changing diapers, rocking him to sleep. My writing became quicker, clearer and more focused. The precious moments I spent on the yoga mat were sublime, and despite my significant decline of exercise, I felt healthier and stronger than ever before.

Furthermore, letting it all go gave me something else to slip into:

Trust.
Surrender.
Faith.

And ultimately, a lot more freedom.

My suggestion?

Build a structure. Create something that will hold and sustain you; especially as you’re starting something new.

But, be flexible.

Don’t allow discipline to be so rigid that it boxes you in—use it as a springboard so you can soar even higher. Let things slide; let things slip; and take a break now and then, just for the hell of it.

You just might discover that you no longer need that worn-out map of discipline…

…because you’re flying now.

Flying

PHOTO: REUBEN WU

Make it Okay

First, a story:

Long day; the last of too many yoga classes: I was burned out, exhausted and not exactly rooted in my best self.

A student walks up to tell me that she didn’t really like the class; it was too fast, she felt lost, and she liked the other teacher better….ouch.

I was stunned and embarrassed and a little pissed off.

I mumbled an apology, maybe an excuse or two, and she left.

And there I was, alone with full-blown resistance toward myself, the student, and the entire situation. My face was flush, my body felt tight, my mind was spinning, and I just wanted the whole thing to just go away.

For the next few days I went through a series of reactions—I felt sad, irritated, angry; tried to forget it, flung out excuses, pretended not to care, and imagined the things I should have said…

I kept pushing and it kept pushing back.

Finally, after I had grown tired of the wrestling match, I tried a different approach—I invited it in. It wasn’t pleasant and I didn’t like it, but I sat with it anyway. And when I did, I realized that my resistance to the situation was softening. My body softened, my mind stopped spinning, and my heart started to open just a little bit.

When that happened, I started to listen.

What can I learn from this situation?

The student had been right; I was moving too fast, I was unengaged, disconnected, and not teaching from my heart. I didn’t want to accept it, but it was true.
And when I accepted the reality of the situation, I found myself in a space of clarity; a space with options; a space where I could actually facilitate positive change.

And so I did.

The experience became my wake-up call; a call toward positive change and necessary introspection. I reevaluated my schedule and lightened my load. I didn’t love the way the message was delivered, but sometimes it takes a hard hit to get the point across.

My point is this: Acceptance isn’t easy and you don’t have to like it, but if you can drop your resistance to yourself or the situation, you will enter into a space of clarity—a space where you can proceed with wisdom and grace.

If you have resistance toward something; pay attention. Be brave; look at it; invite it in, and most importantly, listen.

And then look at your options with clarity:

“Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it, all else is madness.” –Eckhart Tolle.

Leave it.

Change it.

Accept it.

Whatever you do, don’t let it bind you into a tiny ball of resistance, because when you resist, you’re closing yourself off to the good parts of the experience.

Your practice for the next couple of days is to watch for moments when you slip into resistance—the moments when you don’t like your body; the moments when you’ve been dumped with more work; the moments when you wish you hadn’t said what you said, or heard what you heard. And pay very close attention to the moments that you wish would just go away.

Those moments are the doorways to something bigger—they’re the doorways to greater awareness, greater compassion, greater understanding…..greater versions of you.

Contraction precedes expansion. Moments of non-acceptance aren’t meant to tear you down; they’re meant to teach you how to get bigger; find space; and then proceed from there.

Now it’s your turn. Dive into the work, and see what insights you can find in the moments you wish weren’t there.

And if you can’t quite get to a place of acceptance? Accept that you’re trying and that’s good enough.

Okay

Intuition: What it is, What it isn’t, and How to tune in

Intuition is defined as ‘the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning’. So, in other words, it’s a hunch, inkling, or an inexplicable feeling to do something that may or may not make sense to you or anyone else. Some people seem to be born with a natural ability to tune in, trust, and act on their own inner wisdom.

Not me.

I had to earn my understanding of intuition through trial and error—a lot of trial and error. What I mean is, that for a long time, I made decisions based on what I thought was best, without tuning into how I felt about things. Or, I’d turn to other people or outside influences to make a decision for me. What resulted was a lot of road blocks and lessons to be learned.

It took me a long time to realize that all I really needed to do was tune into how I felt, trust the feeling, and then have the courage to follow through with whatever was coming up. If you’re anything like me, that’s easier said than done. I spent a long time in limbo about what was what… (Is that my gut telling me to follow my dream, or to eat a sandwich??)…but I promise you, over time, you’ll hone in on the messages of your soul as they come through your heart and your body. I still consider myself a rookie when it comes to trusting my intuition, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

What intuition is:

Intuition is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger it gets, the more you’ll trust that it will hold you up.

Intuition doesn’t often speak to you directly through your thoughts. It’s more of a feeling that vibrates your bones, shakes up your heart, signals your body, or sends butterflies to your belly. And because of its elusive form of communication, you’ve got to learn to listen to your bones, your heart, your body and your belly if you’re going to pick up on the messages it’s trying to convey.

Intuition is ALWAYS in line with what’s best for you—even if you don’t know what that is yet—when you’re ready to know, you will. In the meantime, have faith.

Intuition has always been, and always will be part of you—no matter what. Even if you’ve never listened, or even considered it before, it’s there, waiting patiently, for you to tune in.

Intuition speaks to you in the present moment. If you’re having trouble listening, get present, no matter how uncomfortable the present moment might be. Moving through discomfort takes you right into the heart of intuition and that’s where you’ll find clarity and peace.

Intuition makes you feel loved, spacious, grateful, supported and connected with something much bigger than you. It is something you can lean on, fall into, or surrender to completely. A little leap of faith is all that’s required. Offer your trust, and you’ll be caught—every time.

Now, for what it isn’t:

It will never make you feel bad—ever.

It will never make you feel uncomfortable—unless the discomfort is of the variety that comes from developing growth and strength, such as overcoming fear or obstacles that are meant to be conquered for your own divine purposes.

It will never, ever leave you. If you are having trouble tuning in, or finding direction—ask. Then listen, and then repeat as often as necessary until you get the message that you seek. (But be prepared, it might not be what you expected).

It will never put you down. If you feel like you’re receiving guidance, but it’s coming through your thoughts with a negative or degrading tone, then that’s not intuition, that’s inner critic. In order to know the difference, notice how the message makes you feel. If you feel closed, contracted, or heavy, then show your inner critic the door and open up space for Grace.

It will never make you feel stuck. If you feel stuck, take a look at your thoughts—are they forming around the past or the future? Get present, and then feel from that space.

Now, a bit about how to tune in:

As I had mentioned, one of the keys to listening is to bring your awareness to the present moment, and since the mind loves to hang out anywhere but here, bring your awareness to your body.

Learning to listen to your body doesn’t have to be complicated—just start with something simple, like feeling your breath, hearing your pulse, or noticing your belly rise and fall. And because your inner wise self is just dying to talk to you, if you give it even one bit of attention, it will open up and embrace you like a long, lost friend.

Stick with the present moment long enough to feel any agitation begin to dissolve. No matter how frustrated, irritated, lost, angry or emotional you are, there is peace at the center. Stay in the present moment, and I promise you, those barriers to peace will dissolve, and you’ll find yourself free, open, and ready to hear what your heart has to say.

This post originally appeared on my first blog, www.emilyparkinsonperry.com on March 11, 2015.