He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At Year's End: The Limits of Discipline

For the past several years, discipline has played an increasing role in my life, a role it had only played in my martial arts training and meditation previously.  It started when I became aware that I had a problem with my blood sugar.

I immediately began to discipline myself to eat a healthy and balanced diet; almost overnight I became skilled at keeping my blood sugar balanced appropriately.  I consistently denied myself sugary treats and carb-heavy starches and breads.  This high-nutrient diet gave me more energy, an energy which eventually propelled me to train for an hour each morning and an hour each evening, going far beyond the 30-45 minutes a day I was managing in my teens on a really terrible diet.  I became a new man (physically); my weight returned to what I weighed in high school and my physique looks in various respects as good or better than it did when I was in high school.

This physical discipline sharpened my mental faculties and made for clearer analysis, more coherent synthesis, and more precise evaluation.  My philosophical writing improved as a result, as did my political analysis.  My ability to work through philosophical problems in a methodically logical fashion reached a new height, and I continued to discipline myself to fight against my confirmation bias and work on developing mental habits which cut against various kinds of cognitive errors and fallacies.  I became a new man (mentally); in the past year I have begun writing a description of my unique political philosophy which transcends both anarchy and its hierarchical opponents.

This mental discipline helped to improve my emotional discipline by strengthening my ability to fight against the overwhelmingly negative event bias that has pulled me toward depression since my early teen years and culminated in a very unhealthy focus on my own death while getting my first degree in my early twenties.  I still hear the siren's call to wallow in misery, but the call is much softer each passing year and I can shut it out much more easily.  I am also much more able to discipline myself to act with loving kindness even when my emotions would incline me to do otherwise and strive to treat my family members more as they should be treated.

This emotional discipline has bolstered my spiritual discipline; my prayers are more fruitful and my will ever more inclined to virtue.  My desire to avoid vice has grown in proportion to my desire to acquire virtue.  The value of discipline has been immense, permeating all aspects of my life with many good fruits growing out of it.  To express its value more eloquently than I could in my own words, I will quote Matthew Kelly.

"Contrary to popular opinion, discipline doesn't stifle or restrict the human person.  Discipline isn't something invented by the Church to control or manipulate the masses, nor is it the tool that unjust tyrants and dictators use to make people do things they don't want to do.  All these are the lies of a culture completely absorbed in a philosophy of instant gratification.
"Discipline is the faithful friend who will introduce you to your true self.  Discipline is the worthy protector who will defend you from your lesser self.  And discipline is the extraordinary mentor who will challenge you to become the-best-version-of-yourself and all God created you to be.
"As loyal and as life-giving as discipline may be, its presence in our lives is dwindling.  Whether we are aware of it or not we are becoming spiritually ill without it... Without discipline, the soul dies.  Slowly, perhaps, but surely."

But discipline has its limits, and this year I ran up against them. Discipline cannot provide the passion for life and delight in its wonder which leads to the most fulfilling and fruitful sort of life this world could use a great deal more of.  That passion must come from a deep wellspring of love.  That's the task for the coming year, to stoke the fires of love and cultivate a passion for a life in the service of the good of others.

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