I’ve written of the discipline it takes to maintain both a meditation practice and wellness in the face of mental illness as a keystone of my success in the face of the challenges of bipolar disorder. In a world that seems designed to limit our impulse control and our attention, for everything is available right now, it almost becomes a struggle to make the sacrifices required to stick to one thing and realize a positive accomplishment of a reasonable goal. This isn’t just a challenge facing those with mental illness, it’s a challenge facing everyone.
I straddle the worlds of comfort and disorganization with unease. Without the anchor of my family and the requisite desire to maintain normalcy I would be unable to resist the powerful pull of hypomanic impulses and depressive surrender. I’m fortunate enough to have an external reason to go on, for sometimes the internal reasons fail. For this, I work to stay well. For me, the underlying discipline is meditation. It’s the work that forges the suffering and inconsistencies into a foundation for a life well-lived. It’s the touchstone for the discipline required to simply get up and do something productive each day.
There’s a myth of high achievers with natural ability spinning talent into success with ease. Good things come to them for just showing up. I don’t believe it for a minute. Certainly, luck and connections can combine with a little bit of talent to set one up for success. But even that privileged success requires an awful lot of hard work - and an awful lot of self-discipline and self-sacrifice. Get to know a few successful people and this becomes clear. To a person they set a goal and work as hard as they can, as smart as they can, often to the exclusion of passing pleasures, to get what they want. Be it a business person or actor, athlete or artist, they put in the daily work that would wear less disciplined people out. The same can be said for people who successfully live with mental illness. Self-sufficiency requires the same work as great success. Work that has to be accomplished every day. Work that is easy to quit, but work that is worth it. To do this work one must develop the discipline of a practice, and stick to it no matter what success or failure comes. The practice is the work, the journey, and the reward.
Freud said the prerequisites to positive mental health are love and work. I think one is not possible without the other. The lack of work can lead to self-loathing, making love impossible. Work, and love, requires tremendous impulse control and attention. And practice, consistent practice, to focus the attention, prepare the body, and set one up for the pressures and demands of success. Nothing good comes easy, but practice can make it more likely, and more rewarding when achieved. And a consistent practice, be it meditation, exercise, writing, learning, or recovery, requires tremendous self-discipline – and love.