Thursday, September 5, 2019

An agreement between the now-self and the future-self

I just realized I didn't publish the last column I wrote for AZIndiaTimes.


Submission for the August 2018 edition.

An agreement between the now-self and the future-self

Yes, I’m convinced that Discipline equals Freedom. Yes, I have a terrible track record doing anything with discipline. Two contradictory aspects of my being that are driving me mad. I know Yoga is very good for me, I know I ought to write with more regularity, I know when I take up something (a change in habit, a field of study to pursue, a behavioural change etc.) I ought to see it to the end. But I never do. I’ve tried so many ways- Eating that Frog, Pomodoro, Not Breaking the Chain, Chit Shakti Meditation. Paid a lot of money upfront to see if the fear of losing that money will prod me to keep at the class. Even tried tying Abhaya Sutra for a full Mandala to see if that’s going to have an effect. No effect whatsoever. Zilch.

Forget the “good” things, I even tried sticking to the guilty pleasures themselves, the ones that usually tempt me from breaking the discipline, for a set duration of time. Damn, even that didn’t work. I can’t even play videogames or Netflix or eat junk food or read blogs with any discipline. This begs two questions: 1. Why do I think discipline is good for me? 2. If it is good for me, what am I not able to stick to it?

What is discipline? It is a part of me telling the entire being to do something over and over again to gain mastery over that aspect of my being. This could be physical, mental, emotional or energy wise. For example, I have experientially learned that exercise is good for me and that means to keep repeating certain postures. Similarly, I can see that to learn something and not just cursorily read it to name-drop, I should pursue it with discipline and dedication. I don’t know psychology but I know I contain multitudes with each fragment of the self voicing its own opinion based on what it wants. Yet, I, the being deeply rooted in this interlocking grid but also larger than the sum of all the part, is autonomous. From society, various gurus and my own experience, I have created a rough hierarchy of these voices filled with wishes and desires. To be disciplined, then, is to let the best part of you tell you what is to be done and then be able to control the other factions to ensure the entire being progresses.

Obviously, questions of what is progress and the validity of the “best” thing and how can a decision that we’ve taken in the past be applicable when we’ve changed in the interim etc crop up incessantly, especially when all parts of my being are screaming against not doing what is to be done because it’s so damn hard. Despite being tempted to give in, I must still stick to why I must. For me to be able to do that, I must trust the voice that told me, “This is the right thing and you must do it”. With faith, we are moving away from cold rationality to the realm of feeling and intuition. The question then crops up, how can I trust something that I can’t prove with empirical means? I can’t put up a logical argument against that.

Dharma is one way of externalizing discipline. People with immense belief in Sanatana Dharma, a set of guidelines that teach us how to live and which have been given to us by the sages based on studying the Vedas, bestow sanctity on those laws because they have immense respect and belief in those who’ve told them thus. And because they consider those principles sacred, they will never violate them. It’s a strange loop- We confer sanctity onto a set of ideas and rituals because we believe in their power and never want to violate them. Subsequently we do not violate them when even when every atom in our body urges us to because they are sacred.

The second question branches from the nature of the first. I know I ought to be doing the right thing and still I procrastinate. In other words, I procrastinate precisely when I ought to be doing something better. Procrastination is bad for the future anyway but it’s also bad for the present because I can’t enjoy the free time that is now tainted with guilt. I used to defend by habit of procrastination by convincing myself that my mind, not wanting to be constrained by an average idea of the past, is waiting to latch onto a brilliant idea. And once it surfaces, it will then spur me to act on this wild epiphany and succeed marvelously. I’ve been living in this state of denial, this suspension of disbelief for atleast two decades now and I’m still awaiting that one flash of insight to rule them all.

“I have a brilliant idea; To wait for a brilliant idea. And then I will be rich. That’s all it takes.” -Flavors

If past experience is anything to go by, there is not going to be a sudden bout of inspiration that’s going to set everything right. True, black swan events happen but it is unintelligent to drift along in the half hearted belief that the universe means the best for me and there is a grander pattern to my haphazard movements.

Yet, what fun is there in doing what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it? Where is the accidental discovery, the unexpected connection, the stumbling across a gem on the road less taken? I must have learned some wonderful things, both about myself and the world, simply by refusing to do what I was supposed to. Again, I can’t shake off the feeling that living like this is living a life of denial. There must be a reason why so many “accomplished” people live lives of utmost discipline and devotion. Life is probably an Open World game but after a point in time it’s more of the same thing with trivial changes. Eventually though, I’m going to have to complete the mission to progress to the next level and that will demand working on the objective at hand.

There’s only one way to know if discipline works. To try and live it. For that, I must find an activity that I have been meaning to do for long and then do it for a stipulated period of time no matter what. Neither the To-Do nor the Timeline will be up for negotiation once the contract has been signed between the now-self and the future-self. Let me take up such an activity and then report my studies in a future edition.

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