Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Self-Discipline and Neuroplasticity

Last night I watched The Brain Fitness Program on PBS. Well, I grabbed pen and paper and took notes! I'm in what I'd call "early middle age" (41), but already my short-term memory is appalling. I have always had a very hard time with concentration and self-discipline, a weakness which is making it really difficult to figure out and work my own monastic formation program, solitary life with no externally-imposed structure.

So the good news is that it is totally worth pushing myself, over and over again, because it WILL get easier. Yes, I may just be wired for inattention and acedia, but that wiring can change. It WILL change if I push it, if I don't give up. Step away from the computer games (delete the ones on the hard drive). Step away from the TV remote (it's for renters! I didn't have a TV for 4 years, what do I want one for now?). Get up off yer duff, go to the oratory and pray the Hours. Journal (here or on paper). Study -- just the other day I found some online courses at St. John's, Collegeville, in monastic spirituality topics. Work! The next time renters come, all I should have to do is change my own sheets and stow a few things, the rest of the beds should be made and the house clean, all the time.

There is a phrase in Karen Karper's book, whose title escapes me at the moment, that she wrote about her early experiences having left the Poor Clare convent to be a hermit. She took up quilting, with its very exacting standards of needlework, and as she ripped out imperfect seams over and over she learned to settle in and "submit to the discipline of [her] craft." I have adopted that phrase for my own! Whenever I find myself resenting tedious or difficult chores, I repeat that phrase to myself: "I am submitting to the discipline of my craft", the craft of eremitic monastic life. The Quotidian Mysteries, as Kathleen Norris calls them, subtitled Laundry, Liturgy, and Women's Work.

The PBS show was terrifically encouraging. I can get very down on the idea of fighting the dead weight of what Norris has me calling acedia. I tend to see it as my own personal weakness, something that is just wrong with me. I know that my family was going through some chaos during the years when I should have been learning self-regulation as a child, there were no rules, no routines, I never got in the habit of making my bed or picking my clothes up off the floor, I was an indifferent student ... never learned any kind of self-discipline. But what those neuroscientists said to me is that -- well basically, that it's never too late to have a happy childhood! I can still learn all those things, pushing against inner chaos is not pointless, it's not forever, the pushing will actually change me and I can train myself to live an orderly, productive life. I really am "wired" for undiscipline, but by practicing discipline, I will actually change that brain "wiring".

OK, God, that is my intention, then -- I choose self-discipline. I choose to grow and change. I know You will help me ... and thank You for the hope!

Regina Terrae

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