This Cipline

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I do not feel especially eloquent this morning but I hope I am intelligible enough, because I have something important to tell you:

It is not easy to find the concept needed, the practice lacking. “Discipline” won’t do. Not unlike most of my students, I also rebelled against that word when I was younger, but it does not bother me that much now that I am almost 39.

I opened a Latin dictionary to see where the word comes from: discipulus, disciple. So I guess it is relevant in the context of education about which I am talking, with which I am trying to establish a conversation here. But then the etymological dictionary goes on to elude to really nasty procedures that were related to this word and hence, my ancient dislike for it resurfaces.

This morning, as I drove with the breeze on my face through the Claregalway clot of traffic, another word came into my head, thanks to a new uppity beat song in the radio station that seems to be the delight of most people in college, and that now sponsors also the Open Days in the university that I work for: ‘Perfect’. The song said something along the lines that the human body is perfect. Forgive me but I’d rather agree with Dylan Moran, who in his show ‘Monsters’ mentions our lack of imagination. If you think our bodies are perfect, you have little imagination. Most days I’d prefer to have four or five arms and a couple more legs for when I get tired and a pair of eyes at the back of my head also would come in handy most days.

Anyway, I was talking about the word perfect. The dictionary unravelled the mystery. Perfect refers to a process into which we engage: “to bring to full development”. That’s why perfectionists are doomed. How can you ever be able to bring something to full development when most everything changes and evolves, or at least most everything that matters to me, be it a person, a relationship, a language, creativity, welfare, nature…?

What is full development anyway? Has anyone or anything got there yet? I guess I quit the urgent need to reach Perfection about a year and a bit ago. Instead, I have broken up that goal in manageable quasi perfections – sometimes carefully organized, sometimes serendipitously arranged – towards quasi perfect goalposts. And then, after a bit of a break to get a reward and the well-deserved rest for having achieved those imperfect goals; I move on towards the next one.

I doubt it is THE right way of doing it but it has made me a less stressed, less self-obsessed and self-righteous person (even when sometimes in class, I still disguise myself as the inflexible coach who pushes her students to the limit – sorry about that!); so it kind of works. All right, all right, I am getting a little bit too Zen for this time in the morning.

Why did I, then, decide to share these mind meanderings with you, teachers and students? The issue of student resistance to independent continuous work and practice still bothers me and this is week three of our semester. I am currently reading about mobile technologies and how they assist learning and the authors insist on the use of pockets… I am going to call them scraps here… scraps of time for learning – waiting on the bus stop, at the doctor’s waiting room, idling in someone’s car when they give you a lift. And it is true. The more you use your idle time, wherever you can find it, for learning; the more you will learn. But I worry. What kind of learning and being are we encouraging with this lifestyle? Fast-food learning?

We associate waiting with wasting. And lately, we do not even look – let alone, talk – to strangers that happen to be beside us. I used to be embarrassed by my mother’s need to unveil my medical record to the next person she was sitting beside at the park or at the doctor’s, but now I am pretty sure it served a purpose, if only the purpose of feeling less lonely, more connected. Isn’t it as plausible a purpose as learning is?

Why is barely no one praising the pleasure of an hour dedicated to self-study and practice? A spacious hour where you can relax and reflect on what you want to learn and what you need to learn? I am not necessarily talking about an hour in the stinking mouldy library – for those that do not like that smell (I am well aware that some of us do) -, I sometimes prefer to study my Gaeilge while walking by the Corrib and lifted by the fresh air. Sometimes I walk with a severe friend that corrects me constantly – thank goodness. Sometimes I just talk to myself in my head in this language. And it does not matter if I am wrong. I do not always aspire to be almost perfect, as I told you before.

So discipline for me is making time for things to happen. I know time already exists, but our life style has invaded most of our time-spaces for boredom. Boredom used to be my compass as a child to know where to go, what to learn, what to explore. Boredom happened naturally, especially in the summer, but also in the weekends when I was a child. But now I have to make sure I organize my activities and dedicate time to them, not just scraps and pockets of time here and there; but hours that sometimes I do not use fully, sometimes I do. And then I can have a bit of boredom in the evening or sometimes in the morning, like today.

Thank you for sharing your boredom with me today and if these words ring a bell or two with you, maybe I will also manage to feel less lonely, much more connected.

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