Freedom and Discipline

by Simon Goland, January 3, 2017

I have this periodical and persistent drive to accomplish things. Sometimes, I also need to. Tasks to do. Projects to complete. Get “organized.” It all comes down to adding some structure, discipline, and routines to my otherwise fluid, flexible, and often unpredictable life. Get productive, because projects are happening and I am feeling behind. Or, perhaps, wanting to feel as though I am ahead (of whatever it means). OK, truth be told, there are also times when I get a sense of “being productive” as well from such an approach. Whatever the reason, I will build a routine. Schedule regular processes and structures to help me accomplish all that I want. Start with excitement, focus, and vigor, which will last for a while. And then…

Then, I will start hearing the voices, whispering their familiar tune: “This is too much structure. Too boxed. Too rigid. Where is the flow of the moment and the freedom to be?”

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.  – Oscar Wilde

This cycle has been playing in my life for a long time, fluctuating between the desire for freedom and flow, and the need for structure and discipline. Again and again, this endless cycle plays out, with fairly predictable outcomes. Yet, I never seem to give up, thinking and hoping that, “this time, it will be different.” Mind you, as irony and fate would have it, I have also been teaching the concept of Polarity Management in some of my past courses (and for a detailed and eloquent review of this very phenomena, beautifully articulated by a past student, visit Polarity Management 101: The Solution to Unsolvable Problems).

I got caught in the same thought pattern again over the past few weeks, as I startled looking at rebuilding my fitness after the recent surgery, to continue my healing journey. This time, I thought I would approach it differently, looking at a gradual way of addressing cardio, fitness, flexibility, and energy level, with the added guidance from a very knowledgeable and experienced friend. I thought long and hard about creating an approach that will be lasting and sustainable. I even harnessed technology (aka engaging my innate geekness), stumbling upon Habitica, as a way of making habits and routines fun.

Everything matters. Nothing’s important. – Nietzsche

Armed with all this clarity, tools, and structures, I dove in. Daily checks, variety in routines, focusing on building consistency that will not be boring. This is exciting!

After a few weeks of this gentle focus and progress, I decided I am ready to go for a swim. I know that swimming is a wonderful fitness activity, addressing both strength and cardio with minimal “negative” impact to the body. Armed with my excitement from the progress, and with plenty of energy to burn, I headed to the pool, where I kept exploring ways of making the swimming varied and interesting (a problem of the past, whereby I would get bored after about 25 min of swimming). My approach worked, and with all the experimentation of variety, I ended up swimming a distance quite a bit longer than any of my recent (4 months prior) swims and feeling great.

It is not until we have been truly shocked into seeing ourselves as we really are, instead of as we wish or hopefully assume we are, that we can take the first step toward individual reality. – Edward Whitmont

Only I forgot that I have not been swimming for several months.

It was a painful wake-up the next morning, with tightness and pain in my lower right back. After a few days of both quiet and not-so-quiet suffering, I finally visited my chiropractic doctor. Apparently, he has seen such phenomena before, with people who do long and strong swims after not swimming for a while, and end up over-extending their lower back and misaligning their pelvis. Which is exactly what happened with me. Another week, and another visit later, and the pain is still not completely gone. Oh, yeah, and all my activities and fitness routines are on-hold. Except for some gentle qigong.

Yet again, a familiar cycle, only of a different kind. Refusal. Frustration. Resignation. Acceptance. Finally, inquiry and curiousity – what is it for?

How easy and tempting it is to get attached to the external structures, to try and control the outcome and focus on the concept of progress, of doing, of accomplishing. It is exciting – and, dare I say, addictive – to check another task or activity off the list. Sure, there is a momentary sense of accomplishment and of progress. Lather, rinse, repeat. Again and again. For me, the main insight here is to realize that I focused so much on the structure and the progress, that I forgot to remain attuned with my body and my inner knowing. Such external structures and drivers are useful and valuable servants, yet terrible masters.

Interestingly, one of the words that is becoming a theme for me for the coming year is IN-TUNE-NESS. It clearly is working me already, in a painful reminder of what will happen when I forget.

My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear — a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence. The “I” in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable. – Kahlil Gibran