Saturday, January 4, 2014

Discipline Not Drudgery

"Mindfulness"
-in my meditation garden-

Yesterday, I had an online conversation with someone responding to one of my posts.  She was very discouraged because her daily meditation period of 15 minutes every morning had become quite dull and even oppressive for her. With her other work, family and social obligations she was finding it hard to "get in" those 15 minutes every morning.

I suggested to her that maybe her problem was that she was trying to "put in her time," as opposed to embracing the possibilities of what her meditation might offer her.

Many people engage in various forms of spiritual discipline - especially now at the beginning of the year, many people often resolve to enhance and develop their own spiritual lives. 

Whether you are religious or not, all spiritual traditions have always incorporated some form of discipline (practice or exercise) as part of the recommended path for finding deep peace and spiritual growth.

All people who are on an intentional spiritual path spend time devoted to various forms of praying and meditating (sometimes fasting) - sometimes on a yoga mat, walking in nature, sitting in a church or a temple or mosque. Some people quietly contemplate in silence, others get up every day and recite psalms or read scriptures or say a rosary. Spiritual paths always include some type of regular and routine discipline. 

The problem is that the very word "discipline" itself has some pretty negative connotations in the English language. "Discipline" often connotes "drudgery." Discipline means engaging in a regimen of difficult, sometimes painful, often boring and even menial repetitive tasks. 

Disciplined study habits, disciplined eating and drinking, disciplined exercise, disciplined spiritual practices- probably good for you but often viewed as onerous tasks. 

The word discipline also carries a connotation of "punishment." Parents "discipline" their children. Prisoners and law breakers are disciplined for their bad behavior.  

And so, people often approach the various "spiritual disciplines" burdened with a sense of drudgery. Like my online friend yesterday, a spiritual discipline turns into something that you have to "get in" if you want to get the desired effects - "get in" the 15 minute mindfulness meditation, get in the daily devotional, "get in" the church (temple, mosque) time. It's something like taking medicine that you know is good for you but tastes bad. 

It's no wonder that people might get tired, weary of and even feel oppressed by the practice of their spiritual disciplines. In fact, for much of my life I had a "discipline as drudgery" attitude - my "disciplines" were the stuff I had to accomplish, time I had to "put in," whether I liked it or not. 

But in my later years I have embraced a different wisdom about "discipline, " and I no longer approach  it as drudgery.

This morning as I practice my own daily discipline of "mindfulness" in my meditation garden, I am keenly aware of just how much I look forward to this time alone every day, and just how much it nourishes me, feeds me, and directs the way I approach all I do in my everyday living.

There are many times when I can sit in my garden, and it all may seem pretty dull and quite ordinary.  At other times, my daily garden meditation time is filled with majesty, awe, and tender delight - an awareness of a universal connection-  a sense of Holy transcendence and intimate presence.  

But whether or not my devoted daily "disciplined" time is dull or delightful, I have learned to welcome this time as an "opportunity" for me to simply make myself available to what "is," not what has been or will be. 

The way I see it, this is why anyone engages in any type of spiritual discipline. 

We pray or fast or meditate - on mats or in pews, sitting on beaches or walking in the mountains; and we read our scriptures, recite our mantras, or finger our beads, for one reason:  to make ourselves available to what "is,"  to allow the energy of the universe to penetrate our spirits, to allow the ever-abidng Holy Presence to bubble up into consciousness and awareness.

There is no drudgery in discipline -only appointed time, devoted time, holy time for making ourselves available to allow the light to fill up the darkness. 


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