Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Discipline of Rhythm and Flow

"Rhythm and Flow"
-along a desert trail-

Yesterday I saw a comment in an online discussion that I considered very iconic of our contemporary times. A young man complained, "I feel so out of balance - like my rhythms are all off."  

When I read this, I thought to myself that probably lots of people may be feeling out of balance nowadays, perhaps especially at this "holiday" time of year - too busy, too many parties, too much work, not enough rest, unfocused, not grounded. 

This morning, like every morning, I sit in my meditation garden and look out at the surrounding desert. The desert is a daily reminder of my spiritual ancestors of centuries ago- those 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers who migrated out into the desert wilderness of Syria and Egypt in order to escape the restraints of the growing institution of the church and to follow the teachings of Jesus more intentionally. 

These ancient monastics lived a very simple life. They prayed and worked together, caring for one another's needs, extending hospitality to strangers, and in doing so they found a deep peace, a balanced life in tune with the rhythm and flow of a universal energy- a higher power. 

In subsequent years, familiar with the life of those first monastics of the fourth century, Saint Benedict wrote a rule of life for monks (a rule that is followed in most monasteries throughout the Western Church to this very day).  The purpose of Benedict's rule was to teach a discipline for achieving some sort of balance. 

The Rule of Benedict was designed to guide the community of monks in practicing a rhythm and flow in everyday life. "Prayer," "Study," "Work" and "Rest."- the daily pattern  for everyday living.

To this very day, Benedict's Rule of Life is practiced in every monastery throughout the Western world. 

Every day, monks devote dedicated periods of time for prayer and quiet meditation, dedicated time for studying and reading, dedicated time for working (usually physical labor in most monasteries).  And yes, every day the monks are required to practice a discipline of rest and recreation - care for the body, having fun together, getting enough sleep.  

Over the years I have visited and stayed with monks in many monasteries in many different places throughout the world -  Western  as well as Eastern, Christian as well as Buddhist; and I  have discovered that this pattern of daily monastic living is hardly restricted to the Western Christian church. 

In fact, at times, it was difficult for me to determine if I was in a Christian or a Buddhist monastery because, when you scraped beneath the surface, the pattern of life was so similar: daily community prayer (chanting together, quiet meditation), a daily period of study and reading, a devoted time for hard work embraced with passion and enthusiasm, along with a daily and intentional time devoted to rest, recreation and fun.

My monastic experiences have taught me that there is something universal about discovering "balance" in life and that you don't have to be a monk or live in a monastery to engage in a daily discipline of rhythm and flow in tune with the rhythm and flow of a greater, universal energy.

As I sit in my garden on another December morning, I sense the movement and the flow of the desert- it moves along according to a pattern and I place myself within its daily flow. I pray and meditate, I study, I work, I rest. I do this every day not out of duty or obligation, but rather I embrace this discipline with a committed passion and with a gentle heart. 

It is a way of peace that anyone can follow. 

The Buddha taught:

Meditate. Live purely. Quiet the mind.
Do your work with mastery.
Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds!

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