Fanning the Right Flames: Cultivating Mental Discipline

I have been dropped into fire. This is about mental discipline.

I recently finished my level one certification in Reiki. I love it. I love the balance that near-daily meditation has brought to my life and I love learning to channel this healing energy. These practices are changing me for the better. They are showing me where my weak spots are and presenting me with challenge after challenge, while also soothing my weary soul, body, and mind, and lifting my spirit immeasurably when I’m able to give Reiki to others. It is deeply satisfying for me.

This morning, I was up at 8:15. I went to the bathroom, then came upstairs and waited about 5 minutes for my partner to gather his things and leave for his workday. I sat down and began breathing.

Not three minutes later, I could hear little footsteps on the stairs. My younger son was awake far earlier than I had anticipated. A storm of rage swept over my body.

You have to understand something, dear reader. I’ve been hanging by a very frayed thread for a very long time now. Well over a year. Possibly since the start of parenting about 6 years ago. This at-home parenting gig is the antithesis of easy for me. I have sought nearly every bit of assistance I could access, which has been sorely lacking. This time of my life is about learning to function within the confines of limitation and restriction: tight finances and blessedly little in-person support. I feel like a isolated pioneer woman within a large city. A bizarre and frustrating paradox and likely not all that uncommon. The relentless 10+ hour days with a special needs 6yo and the generally easier but still not easy 3yo who is going through a wicked whiny phase… I get almost no time to myself. That’s been slowly shifting over the past year out of necessity, but it’s still nowhere near what I’d like it to be. And so I do what I can while singing the praises of my partner, who does what he can to give me what little time I do get for myself.

As I posted on facebook today, fully incensed that my alone time was taken from me:

I’ve been getting up early in order to have some meditation time to myself and if I can’t get that, then it’s a horrible horrible day. with the meditation, it’s only half horrible.

I literally want to stab people right now.

And so I did exactly what I needed to do: I sat with my boy and hugged him and told him that it was still quiet time and that he needed to go lie down for a little while on the couch. Because he is a blessedly compliant child, he did just that.

And so I sat.

And so I breathed.

And in that process of breathing, being present in my body, drifting into rage, wandering through the injustices of my life, pulling myself back into my body in order to make the most of the respite presented, I had an epiphany or two:

It is when we are present in our bodies that we are most able to stay calm. When we let our minds drift and particularly when we let them drift into negativity, rehashing all the terrible things we’ve been through, it takes an inordinate amount of mental discipline, the likes of which are generally unknown in the western world, not only to bring ourselves back to the present but to stay here, too.

Staying present in the moment and not letting yourself get swept up in a hate spiral of rage and fear Takes Mental Discipline. The dark side feels almost pleasurable to bask in, like the way itching a mosquito bite can be nigh ecstatic at times. The dark side really does have cookies, and they’re all empty calories — it is easier to indulge in feeling victimized than it is to remember that we have the power to rewire our thought processes and consciously shut out the negativity.

I usually let myself really feel those negative emotions, let them wash over me and allow myself to lift my fists in impotent rage. Effectively, I let myself wallow in my own suffering and feel smugly justified in doing so because I’ve been so hard done by. But this wave I thought I was riding this morning was actually an earthquake, and all my foundations were about to succumb to liquefaction. Letting myself waste the precious quiet time I’d been given was counterproductive and served no one. So I said to those thoughts, simply, firmly, and repeatedly, as needed, “No.” while willing myself to stay present in my breath and in my body.

It. Was. Hard.

There is no denying it. It was hard. It was hard, and I did it. On too little sleep, strung out on dopamine highs of indulgent misery. I did it. And in doing so, I felt the the unparalleled satisfaction of finally understanding a tiny sample of the beauty of cultivating the mental discipline of being in the moment. And if I did it in that state, I can do it when I’m calmer, because the benefits reaped are immediate and gratifying, subtle as they may seem.

I have been dropped into fire and I am rising from the ashes. Again and again. Old ways of thinking are kindling for this crucible.


“When the Soul wants to experience something, she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.”
― Meister Eckhart