Archive for the ‘discipline’ Tag

Toggling Our Spirituality   Leave a comment

One of the often ironic tests of a spiritual path is that it doesn’t comfortably “turn off” just because we may want it to. Many have “left” Christianity or another religion, only to find it still tugs at them, especially at vulnerable moments when our hearts stand unguarded, or broken open by events most of us face in simply living. A death, a love lost, a talent explored and trampled, a friendship severed, a dream deferred too long. The heart’s desire. J. K. Rowlings’ Mirror of Erised — desire, reflected back to us.

This is high on most lists of inconvenient human truths: a god or gods don’t release me from commitments I’ve made, just because I tire of them; the discipline I began that over time has shaped my awareness, habits, and life choices isn’t something I can smoothly abandon at whim, or even in the face of deep and ongoing challenges; the realm “outside the box” that I poured time and energy into doesn’t vanish just because bugs and snakes start to creep in from across the border.

If a path “has heart” (to use words from that curious 60’s classic series, which author Carlos Castaneda gave to his Yaqui teacher Don Juan), that heart beats with or without me, and asserts its own claims regardless of my feelings about the matter. (Of course, if the path doesn’t have heart, I’m riding a long con, and have an equivalent set of painful lessons to learn.)

And yet. To look deeply and honestly into this matter, I need to set these next words of Castaneda side by side with what I’ve said above:

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length — and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly (The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge).

And in the best style of answering one quotation with another, here is Gildor Inglorion counseling Frodo in the The Fellowship of the Ring. To set the scene for those not versed in the “secular scripture” that is Tolkien, Frodo is leaving the Shire with Sam, and has encountered dark intimations of the path he has set himself to walk:

Gildor was silent for a moment. ‘I do not like this news,’ he said at last. ‘That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.’

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’

‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it.’

Well, what did I expect? A one-sided and definitive answer will never spur me to use my own understanding, or kick me out of the spiritual immaturity where I’ve been lounging, waiting for someone else to make my big decisions. Even if another “knows all concerning myself”, how then can that person choose better than I can? Don’t most of my troubles issue from allowing another to do just that? I’m not talking about childhood, but about assuming the mantle of adulthood which modern society conspires to discourage us from ever doing, if we can avoid it with the pretty toys it serves up to distract us.

Instead, wise counsel generally arrives in harmony with what we already know in our marrow, and may be resisting — it confirms what we suspected all along. “To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life”, Don Juan notes. When I yearn deeply enough for what is my birthright, a way opens. Often that’s our first taste of a kind of discipline not much talked-about: the kind we earn by living, and suffering when necessary to clear the crap away. Clarity has arrived, usually at some cost. Nothing, finally, can keep it from me. “When the student is ready, the master appears”, goes the ancient proverb. That master may be partner, friend, the stray who takes up residence and opens my heart, the neighbor whose children cross into my yard, fall from my fruit trees, and teach me compassion for others. It may be a stubborn refusal to give up, give in, give out. Whatever guise you take, Mystery, may I know and welcome you again.

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