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Wellness garden RHS Wisley
The wellness garden visited on a tour of RHS Wisley in September. Human designs on discipline provide a path through the chaos of nature

The primary method to overcome social afflictions

is self-discipline in personal life,

through which one attempts to master self-control;

it is very difficult to impose discipline from the outside: The 14th Dalai Lama

Self-discipline is ‘good intentions’ frenemy; action (or non) in response to a call from within, it calls for practice and it can be painful. The word discipline conjures up the image of an army, diligently marching in orderly time, rigidly following orders. Little wonder when the etymology of the word from 12th century French is described as penitential chastisement; punishment for the sake of correction”. When it comes to self-discipline we’re squaring up to any, maybe many of the seven deadly sins:

• Pride vs. Humility

• Greed vs. Charity

• Lust vs. Chastity

• Envy vs. Gratitude

• Gluttony vs. Temperance

• Wrath vs. Patience

• Sloth vs. Diligence

For a successful society, each of its participants must be able to ‘walk the line’ as if we were meandering merrily, or not too merrily, through a Utopian bliss. Too much of any one ‘thing’ has a tidal reaction that can develop into a tsunami. With such powerful ferocity, it is no longer manageable and tends to cause harm to anyone in its vicinity. However, I do struggle to think of a negative side-effect of too much patience.

Answers on a postcard please.

I’ve come to view self-discipline as an art-form. Something to be practised and nurtured. It’s the journey and, in being careful to follow the clues along its path, we learn self-mastery. If however, we focus only on a goal, a pictured idyll in the mind’s eye, any stumble is a legitimate excuse for our monkey-mind to kick in and burn the house down.

The art of self-discipline is much like any creative learning process. Start simply and nail through practice so that it becomes part of you, like breathing. During lockdown, I was lucky enough to spend part of it hotel-sitting. It had a pool and I saw it as a chance to learn how to swim properly.

I’d spent most of my life afraid of water, which had prevented me from going in the sea, and I was nervous of single sculling, even when fully competent. Through a stroke of luck, one of my fellow inmates was a swim teacher and, one lesson later, I had learnt the principles of front crawl, head in water. Without much else to do, time for practice was easy to find and a 10 metre pool easy to splosh across. What was difficult to accept was an apparent worsening as time went on, though luckily those who remained in the main hotel could watch CCTV footage of some stylish drowning.

I made more excuses not to do front crawl and clocked up the metres on my back instead. The trouble with that (much like rowing/sculling) is that you can’t see where you’re going. If I'd had to use this skill in an emergency, I could very well find myself in the jaws of a shark or wrapped around a propeller. So, I broke the length of the pool down. I spent many an afternoon just doing 3 strokes to correct my breathing. Then I connected 6 and so on. It’s how we teach people to row. Learning the overall principles will get you on the water, but there are many nuances that have to be broken down and learnt; knitting them together is mastering the discipline. Through repetition, we create new neural pathways and muscle memory, behavioural patterns that can, with persistence, become habit, second nature.

When we returned to ‘normal’ living, I went back to the river but to be afloat did not dispel my unabated fear of falling in, given there’s a sewage over-flow pipe just upstream from the landing stage. It wasn’t until early summer that I got back in a lane pool and one that was 3 times the length I was used to . Making it to the end became the prerogative, even grateful for the lifeguard’s shouts of concern.

Counting strokes during back-stoke has cut down on injuries/mild concussions gained from encounters with the pool wall but has not been without risk. Counting and swimming in a straight line prove difficult; grazes with lane ropes are surprising and can often lead to taking in more water than planned. It really helps not caring what others think in these scenarios*

*I’m quite short-sighted (and bloody-minded), only wearing glasses for driving. Most people from mid-distance onwards are just blobs and I assume that is how I am to them. Works a treat psychologically but can be quite debilitating at times and not to be recommended.

In the short time I’ve been moving my body more, I’ve noticed improved focus, stamina and the ability to start even the most mundane task without procrastinating. Sport/yoga is a direct way of pushing yourself through perceived ‘pain-barriers’, research (for a comprehensive overview on the subject, click this link) says that our brain stops us way before the body is beaten. In pushing through pain we begin to learn how capable we are and that belief seeps through into all areas of our lives.

Wysteria takes hold of Diver by Dawn Conn at RHS Wisley
Wysteria at RHS Wisley - gardeners are nature's disciplinarians, but when their back is turned ...


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