Discipline has always held both negative and positive memories for me. While discipline from others never came in a positive light, structuring my life and activities helps me discipline my mind and focus on my goals. Growing up, I always seemed to be getting into trouble or be scolded about one thing or another. Looking back on the incidents that have stayed at the forefront of my memory, it’s clear that I didn’t deserve much of it. That being said, I won’t be going into details about any traumatic scenarios. For this post, I’d like to focus on the times that discipline helped me achieve, and where I turned something that wasn’t always a positive experience into something that I could leverage.
The years I was most productive, I would compartmentalize my time and activities to keep only that which helped me achieve my goal, and dispose of all others. In most cases, this act followed something in my life that I wanted to move on from or something I wanted to forget altogether. By focusing my mind on another topic, and investing all my time into a new venture, I avoided dealing with whatever pained me, but I gained ground towards achieving my goals. I’ve never been able to find a healthy balance of interests. It’s usually full steam ahead until the course and my focus needed adjustment to a completely different topic.
I can train myself to associate playlists or sounds with a specific output or feeling and can replicate the feel from an experience repeatedly. When it happens, I am not consciously aware of how it is motivating me. When I wanted to immortalize a moment or evening, I would pick specific music to burn the memory into the melody so that I could revisit it. To this day, I have hundreds of songs and playlists saved that instantly bring me back to a moment I never want to forget. On rare occasions, I would build a playlist that made me feel a certain way and then find a person to pair it with; it was never an easy task.
Music has always been a way I was able to train my mind. I think this comes from the years of training I had growing up playing the piano, violin, or cello. Cleaning and tuning an instrument, stretching the hands and body, and positioning the instrument or chair for the best posture were all part of the routine and would help a musician get focused before creating sounds. I like the routine of playing music, and I loved playing music in the orchestra.
I always viewed an orchestra as a weaving of sounds, you had to be in unison with your peers who played the same instrument as you, and then had to layer your collective sounds on top of other sounds. I could visualize the auditory tapestry as the bows moved back and forth, up and down; the goal was to find the harmonious intersection where it all came together and resonated. To play in the orchestra, it required practice and repetition. If I wasn’t playing well, it didn’t evoke the same ethereal experience, so I had to maintain a certain level of skill to enjoy myself.
The act of playing music always focused my mind and could keep me distracted from whatever was burdening me. When my mind was running a mile a minute and needed to regain control of my thoughts, I would turn to my cello in my younger years and my keyboard as an adult. I could focus on the black and white pages, match my fingers to the dots, and make sounds that could transport me to another place. Orchestra music was always something I could get lost in and calm my mind.
In high school, we started out playing in a district orchestra because there weren’t enough players for each school to have their own. We would be bused to the neighboring high school at lunchtime and then returned before the next class. The district orchestra was one of my favorite orchestras because we got to see our friends from the elementary after school orchestra whom we lost touch with. On the way back from this class, there were times when I would convince the bus driver to stop by the convenience store on the way back so we could grab snacks. It started as a dare from one of my friends, but I was able to make it happen, so I became very popular with my group of minstrels. As this happened more frequently, we got reported to the schools about this unscheduled stop and the risks it posed to the school. We didn’t get any formal reprimand, but the unplanned stops ceased, and we were given a new bus driver. I always wonder what happened to our original driver and if they got in more trouble than we ever heard about.
The following year, our school was given our own orchestra class under the guise that we had enough students to warrant our own ensemble, but they didn’t fool me. We got our own class because I got us in trouble, and the school didn’t want to take the risk of busing students around town anymore. I was called into the Principals office, where she proceeded to ask me if I would be supportive of the decision. I wasn’t supportive. I felt horrible that a dare ended our ability to stay with the district orchestra and had I just said no to it, instead of giving in, my senior year would have finished with me playing with the people I had grown up with all those years. In an odd turn of events, I decided that I wasn’t going to give into playing in our new orchestra, even though I wanted to. Looking back, I think there were two reasons for my choice: 1) I hoped that by me saying no that they would reconsider and let us play again with the district group, and 2) If they didn’t let us play in the district group, then our new orchestra was just punishment, one I wasn’t going to agree to. I decided I wouldn’t accept the punishment they gave me, but I agreed that I was at fault, though no one came out to say that to my face. I defined my own punishment instead and decided that I didn’t deserve to play at all because the whole situation was my fault. I revisited playing orchestra in college but it never held the same joy. To this day, I still listen to classical music daily.
Disciplining myself always manifested in scenarios where I avoided something I didn’t want to come to terms with; in the case above, it was that I ruined senior year orchestra for my friends. I think this was an extension of the negative situations I haven’t discussed in this post. I see parallels to the people involved in those experiences and them wanting to avoid what was paining them as well. More to unpack on this topic in future posts.