When I was a child, discipline meant the large wooden paddle with holes (allegedly designed to make the paddle move quicker as it swung toward the buttocks of naughty school children) that hung ominously over the principal’s desk at my elementary school in the Arizona desert.
As a high-school athlete, discipline meant sweating through the hot summer afternoon two-a-day football practices our coaches said were necessary to prepare us for the rigors of the actual game.
As a young single father, discipline was trying to make my children do all the things they didn’t want to do but that society insisted they must do in order to qualify them as good children … and me as a good parent.
In business, discipline was about making sound financial decisions, avoiding the pitfalls of ego and emotion, and keeping a steady eye on key metrics and the bottom line.
For all of us discipline has its own unique context, with one typically common thread – it’s not fun. This, I’m sure, makes the title of this writing a little odd, right? What do discipline and self-love have in common? Are you saying I need to discipline myself into loving myself?
As funny as that sounds, it’s very close to the true way we deal with caring for ourselves in this culture. We say “no pain, no gain” as we enter the gym for our morning workout; “if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger” someone tells us as we down a shot of bitter kale juice; and “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel” we’re advised, along with the prescription to sit alone and meditate through the tears of our deepest traumas.
All of that sounds strangely like the customary practice of masochism we call daily life. We awaken to the annoying metallic rattle of the alarm clock, we run through the morning to gather kids, homework, and briefcase in a mad dash to make it to school before another bell rings; we speed to work, already on a business call, cursing the traffic lights and the army of “happy” workers who are doing the same; at work we’re given deadlines so impossible that we skip lunch, dinner, and our children’s birthday parties to meet them; and in the evening as the day fades away we lie in bed counting sheep while commanding our brain to “shut up and relax” before giving up, turning on our laptop, and doing the only thing we know how to do … work.
I was interviewed by a student reporter from a prominent business school recently. We were discussing the experience of loving ourselves. He asked about my daily practice and I described my routine of yoga, meditation, and green juice. As I finished telling him about my experiences there was a long silence – as if he was working up the courage to tell me something. What he said next touched my heart. “I have a nineteen hour schedule between classes, homework, study, extracurricular activities and my job at the campus newspaper … I sleep five hours a night and I’m just wondering where I’m going to find the time for yoga and meditation let alone finding fruits and vegetables to make juice with?” His statement wasn’t a challenge, rather a declaration of the desperate lack of self-care that he experiences in his world – and that we all do. We talked for a while about this, the student and I, discussing what kind of life he was building beyond his career. We talked about his feelings and that they mattered as much as his professors’ and parents’ beliefs about his life, and I shared the value of learning to love ourselves in the face of a world that uses the word love but doesn’t practice it much.
At the end of our conversation he said simply, “I guess self-love takes practice just like everything else I want to be good at in life.”
And that brings us back to the odd combination of discipline and self-love. Happiness, patience, peace of mind, self-love and the other states of being that we say we want to experience, are skills … skills that must be developed over time. We aren’t born into this world knowing how to love ourselves when someone at work tells us we’re stupid or unworthy. We don’t innately have the skill to keep a level head when a taxi driver, after cutting us off, causes us to slam on the brakes then rolls down his window and gives us the bird. We don’t have a magic happiness sense that kicks in when we turn on the television and see war, death, and despair on every channel. These are skills, and skills require practice.
This, for me, is what my daily practice is all about – it’s the practice of learning to treat myself with loving kindness under the stresses of the world. Like a basketball player shooting 1,000 free throws after practice, I begin and end my day in the practice of loving myself. When I sit in meditation I don’t struggle to quiet my mind. Instead I embrace it, I love myself as thoughts and images pop up like targets at the carnival BB gun game. Why? Because I want to love myself when the thought that I’m unworthy and not good enough pops up in the middle of an argument with my boss. When I stretch in yoga I don’t push myself through pain and stiffness to reach the perfect pose, I gently invite my body to open and receive the day. Why? Because I want to maintain that grace when life pushes, pulls, and stretches me with its many pressures. When I nurture my body I don’t eat horrible-tasting food because if I don’t I’ll get fat, I nourish the cells of my body (including my tongue) with food that tells my cells they are loved. Why? Because when I need my body to step up and face the challenges of the day I want it to do so with enthusiasm and a knowing that we are in this together.
The discipline of self-love isn’t so much the waking up early to do yoga and meditation or passing up the chocolate cake, though that of course requires discipline. The discipline of self-love is practicing loving myself while I do that … and when I fail. It’s waking up early most mornings and giving myself the permission to roll over and sleep some more when my body needs it. It’s meditating through a painful childhood memory and believing I have the right to let that go and move on to something easier. It’s making green juice a part of my daily routine and knowing that it’s more than okay to put some extra orange juice in it so it actually tastes good.
When we approach caring for ourselves as the practice of self-love, it converts the modalities and practices from things we have to do to activities we want to do.
They become ways to nurture ourselves – like mini-vacations in the middle of our hectic lives. We give ourselves permission to fail and begin anew, because that’s what we need to realize peace and love in life itself.
Give yourself permission to fail and begin anew, because that’s what we need to realize peace and love in life itself.
This week I invite you to begin again. To tear up the rules you hold about caring for yourself. Put aside the pushing, the pain, the sacrificing, and the gutting through and replace it all with love. Treat your time in the gym, on the yoga mat, in meditation, or at the health food store as practice for a life of love … the love of you. Leave the rigors to all the other areas of life and make self-care your refuge.
Big hugs of love,
Jason Garner is the author of the new book, … And I Breathed, My Journey from a Life of Matter to a Life That Matters. Jason is a husband, father, former Fortune 500 company executive, and spiritual student who spent the first 37 years of his life working his way up from flea market parking attendant to CEO of Global Music at Live Nation — never taking a breath in the belief that to be loved he had to be the best. He has worked with rock stars and sports legends and was twice named to Fortune magazine’s list of the top 20 highest-paid executives under 40. A series of events centering on the sudden death of his mother from cancer caused him to re-evaluate what really mattered in life … and to finally breathe. You can find more info on his website and follow him on Twitter or FB.