Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Trap of Doubt, Delay and "Discipline"

Recently, I met with one of my writing feedback groups. Most of the folks in this small group are working on memoir, which is a supremely difficult genre. One woman in particular is writing a very hard tale about a very small but potent part of her life - a year or so of mental health struggles in which she lost most of her support network. It's a poignant story, and she tells it very directly.

Since she has begun, she's written with great momentum, clear about what comes next, able to pile through very tricky scenes with great ease. Then she hit some doubt - a moment of not being sure where the story was going next, or what the point was in writing/sharing it. And then she hit some stress - way too many external and internal stressors coming together at the wrong time. Her actually writing got delayed - put on the back burner - by a few months, due to illness and literal, physical inability to write. It's also inevitable that such an intense story would bring up doubt, eventually.

She was coasting through previously-written chapters before in our group, but in our most recent meeting, she had no more old or new writing to share. She was stuck, frozen, and wrote us a letter with incredible honesty about her current situation. She described the stressors, of which we were aware, and asked good, hard questions about her manuscript, of both herself and us. The questions themselves are very useful, except for that she was becoming trapped in them. Things like:

-"Why am I writing this?"
-"Would you suggest this book to someone else? If so, why?"
-"What do you think this book is about?"

It's hard to tell, actually, in the case above, what came first. Did she begin to doubt first? Did she get a hitch in her schedule and the delay came in despite her passion to keep writing? Did structure fall apart? It doesn't much matter, because once one of them falls apart, the others do, too. Our most common reaction is to say what this student said, "I am/was not disciplined enough to keep this going." This is a trap of doubt. I am not going to say that discipline - though I prefer the word structure - doesn't play a part. But as I say in this post over in Memoir Mind, once we get a good rhythm going (set in place by discipline/structure) no matter what arises, we can keep going. And once a good rhythm is going, we don't need discipline, because it is self-sustaining. So whether the interruption is internal (doubt) or external (delay), if we stumble, it's losing the rhythm that causes the falling apartness.

Once we get to that point, we do need discipline to get going again. More than discipline, however, we need structure - whatever structure, as oddball as it was, that kept things going, we need that to be re-started. To re-start structure, we need support. Saying to ourselves that we aren't disciplined enough is a horrible self-judgement and not accurate - we were disciplined enough for awhile, if you must put it that way. It's not working now not because we suddenly became bad or incapable, but because we need help. That is natural and needed.

If you find you have lost your way with a creative project or long-term change in your life, see where you can catch yourself saying things like, "I am not disciplined enough." Check your inner critic's exceptionalism at the door and get some compassion in store. If you can't generate it for yourself, ask someone who loves you and supports your project/s. Look at what you have been able to do in the past, and see what worked about that so you can apply it again here. If times or needs have changed, change the support and structure.

Doubting a project is natural and healthy.
Doubting yourself is troubling and self-sabotaging.
Keep your doubt in loving check, be realistic about your delays and get structure and support back in place.

Here's a lovely quote about the paradox of doubt from Chogyam Trungpa:
The warrior is never caught in the trap of doubt. The fundamental doubt is doubting yourself. This doubt can manifest as anxiety, jealousy, or arrogance. In its extreme form, you slander others because you doubt your own confidence. The warrior of perky, symbolized by the snow lion, rests in a state of trust that is based on modesty and mindfulness. Confident within him- or herself, therefore, this warrior has no doubt. He or she is always aware and is never confused about what to accept or reject. 
It may sound idealistic, but I promise you that Trungpa Rinpoche is not saying that we should have no doubt. Just that we don't get caught in it. When we can accept that we have doubts and let them go, they don't sink so deep under our skin and trigger our inadequacy enough to keep us frozen from acting. It's a gradual process that requires mindfulness - and asking for help and being vulnerable.

But it is possible. And very worthwhile.

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