My sister wanted to talk about a book she rediscovered in her house, bought for a quarter on a trip through Ann Arbor with the parents decades ago. It tied in with a course she took in the 1980s when she lived in Salem Massachusetts, working as a buyer for Jordan Marsh.
In this book, the author says that just being in the moment isn’t enough, that you have to build structures to hold what you know, hold your work and your needs. You don’t just need to build proficiency, as she does when she takes another workshop or masters another technique, you need to build discipline, so that you have a way to own, access and structure your work.
In her view, proficiency without discipline is like a store without display fixtures; you may have lots of great products, but how can anyone ever find them? How can you protect and manage them?
She loves learning the new, making art, but making a context for that art requires discipline, and she has realized that is something she hasn’t really mastered. Having picked up around her house many times, that is something I can easily agree with. Her lack of discipline often creates challenges for those around her.
In the end, the problem of discipline comes down to one essential question: what do you say no to?
ShamanGal told me once that she looks good in anything.
Now, I believe that she is young and beautiful, but no one looks good in everything. Kate Moss can’t wear the same kind of dresses that look good on Dolly Parton, for example; they have very different body shapes. And most transwomen, unless they have done too much pumping, don’t have the hips and butt for leggings. Bones don’t lie.
ShamanGal hasn’t quite figured out what she has to say no to. That’s evident in many of her calls to me, where on one level she knows that something doesn’t fit her, but she still wants it and needs me to argue why she shouldn’t choose it.
I often hear the trill of a teenager in her voice, the plaintive wail of “Why not me!” and “Why me?” that reveal she hasn’t come to grips with her own reality yet, hasn’t learned that to be a grown up woman, choices must be made.
You know, the choices shaped by “God, grant me the strength to change what I can. the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That is a prayer about power and surrender, a prayer that asks for the wisdom to know what to say yes to and what to say no to.
There are no shortcuts in your practice. The gift of the world is choice, even if your ego doesn’t like the choice to do the hard work that you know is right.
Your ego doesn’t like the choice to say no to the attractive that doesn’t serve you, and say yes to the work you know you have to do to create discipline. But there are no shortcuts in your practice.
It’s often easy to say yes, because yes is fun and enervating.
Saying no is hard, because it requires discipline. But saying no is the only way you can value what you have in the world, the only way you can set priorities that value not only your limited resources but also the limited resources of those who are supporting you. To have clear focus and priorities, which can only be created by saying no, lets you respect the time and energy of others who can help you achieve your goal.
Practice is moving out of comfort to find options. Getting prepared for opportunity by shaping your own choices is creating discipline for that can allow you to have ownership of your own time, your own energy and your own life.
The essence of discipline is learning how to say no even when it is easier or more attractive to say yes, so that you have the focus and resources to really give priority and commitment to the things you value, the things you choose to say yes to.
That’s why discipline is so important, because without discipline — without being able to say no — we have no ability to create structure or context for the choices we make.
Practice is what we do when we get out of the moment to help us be prepared make better choices when we are in The Moment.
One of the most important things we can practice is saying no, not just to the world, but also to our own ego, to our own fears and our own scattered desire.
And learning to say no so we can more fully say yes is at the heart of practising discipline.