52 Essays #3: Self-Discipline

There are a lot of virtues that I possess: compassion, kindness, integrity, honesty, responsibility, authenticity, self-reflection. There is one I have always struggled with: self-discipline.

I remember back to the days when I was an adolescent and my family attended a fundamentalist Baptist Church. Mom had become a Born-Again Christian through the Pentecostal movement in the Catholic Church, having been ‘slain in the spirit’. We left the Catholic Church shortly after that, and shortly after I was denied Confirmation because I wasn’t paying my church dues properly. I guess you can’t be poor and be a Confirmed Catholic. Daddy didn’t really understand why we had to leave the Catholic Church; wasn’t a Catholic Church, Christian? In his mind he didn’t see a difference at first. But we did what Mom wanted, of course, and we became Baptists.

Always taking my relationship with G*d sincerely and seriously since I was a little girl, I threw myself into it. I sang ‘Special Music’ at church, took a rotation in Children’s Church, helped with church socials, and became a regular solid member of the Youth Group. In the church’s Youth Group, I actually found friends, which I struggled with at public high school. I was fat and poor, and a little odd (especially in junior high), and the town was a small town of mostly white middle class.  I missed being in the racially mixed environment of the town we lived in when I was in Catholic elementary school. When we moved, I kept wondering where all the brown people were. I didn’t yet understand class and race segregation of towns and neighborhoods, and the whiteness and class differences troubled me.

But I digress as I do.

I was talking about self-discipline.

One of the things preached at church to everyone was the importance of having a daily ‘Quiet Time’ every morning. This was a time you were supposed to sit and read and study your Bible, and pray every morning before you went to school or work. I could never manage to do that every morning. I did sometimes. But the guilt of ‘supposing to do it’ weighed heavy on me, and actually sometimes even prevented me from doing so. It felt so forced, and was a ‘Big Should’ that I struggled with internally. It was a way that I was supposed to be a “Good” Christian, spiritually growing in my faith, and doing the Right Thing. Being the first born child in a family with generational legacy of broken-family emotional dysfunction, I of course had an over developed sense of responsibility.

But what I didn’t really know or understand about myself at the time is that I also have a rebel heart.  And the juxtaposition of the rebel heart with religiously imposed “Shoulds” did a number on me. What developed from that is a dynamic that my rebellious nature takes over and intercedes with what I know I ‘should’ do. And yes, sometimes self-sabotage occurs. And an on going internal struggle of guilt and shame. I was ashamed that I didn’t have the self-discipline to do my ‘Quiet Time” every morning. I though it meant that I wasn’t a good Christian, and that I was sinning. Add to that the over-responsible first born dynamic, and that is a perfect recipe for never really learning self-discipline.

I always had an inner knowing, even as a small child, that my relationship with G*d was a personal, internal relationship, even as a Catholic, which sets up priests as the go-between for people and G*d. So I have a difficult relationship with organized religion. I feel that religion is insidious in it’s emotional abuse.  It’s something that permeates down to the core of one’s soul, and comes with the guilt of Big Shoulds, which produces shame. Add to that a patriarchal religion that upholds the supremacy of men, and the subservience of women, I see patriarchal religions to be part of the oppression of women. In fact, I see them as one of the tools of patriarchy, that keep women oppressed and subservient, just as gender is. But perhaps that’s another essay.

Fortunately, I eventually made my way out of that and became a radical feminist lesbian, and an artist, thanks to kind bud and and the support of my theatre fag friends. Or more correctly, I always was a radical feminist lesbian, and I was fortunate enough to find my way out into the Light, one step at a time, while re-creating my relationship with the Divine, and Universal Law along the way.

But some emotional scars and patterning stay with you. They are part of your core make-up, and take an enormous amount of work to undo. Nowadays I struggle with self-discipline in lots of way. I practice Nichiren Buddhism now, but do I manage to do Gongyo and Daimoku twice every day (chanting)? Not always.  I’ve also been practicing yoga for over twenty years, but do I do yoga every day? No. Do I take a walk every day? No. I am doing this writing challenge: one essay a week. Do I write every week? Not yet. NaPoWriMo is coming up in a couple of weeks. Will I write a poem every day? Yet to be seen. Do I take my supplements every day? No. I have a lot of pending creative projects. Do I work creatively every week? No. It seems every time I set up or take on a challenge that requires self-discipline, I fail, and face that scarring again.

It’s deep.

But, I have resilience. And persistence. Perhaps self-discipline in my live manifests in that way. My rebel heart has saved my life, and helped me to evolve into the woman I am today, and the woman I am yet to become. And so has my resilience and persistence. The guilt and shame responses I have associated with self-discipline only hold me back, and trip me up. They are part of my shadow. And I always strive to be in the Light. But without Shadow, there is no Light. They are in a perpetual dance and carry a little bit of each other within, like the YinYang symbol.

And so, I will persist. And I will do it my way: the way which feeds my Highest Good, and the way that fuels my Happiness. Because guilt and shame are heavy loads to carry through life.  And Happiness and Fulfillment are my goals.

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