Thursday, June 23, 2011

Discipline and Freedom

photo courtesy of
a good friend shared something with me recently that really struck a cord and i wanted to share it with you. it's a piece written by Matthew Kelly, author of a book called "The Best Version of Yourself" which i have not read but i could definitely use since lately i feel like i've been operating as the best version of oh say - a paperclip - instead of the best version of myself. *warning: this piece contains a story about Jesus. but whether you dig the guy or not, you have to admit... he had some pretty awesome hair. am i right???

"The Role of Discipline

Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest" (John 10:10). The path that leads to "fullness of life" is discipline. There are four major aspects of the human person - physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. When we eat well, exercise often, and sleep regularly, we feel more fully alive physically. When we love, when we give priority to the significant relationships of our lives, when we give of ourselves to help others in their journey, we feel more fully alive emotionally. When we study, we feel more fully alive intellectually. When we come before God in prayer, openly and honestly, we experience life more fully spiritually. All of these life-giving endeavors require discipline. When are we most fully alive? When we embrace a life of discipline. The human person thrives on discipline.
Are you thriving? Or are you just surviving?
Discipline awakens us from our philosophical stupor and refines every aspect of the human person. Discipline doesn't enslave or stifle the human person; rather, it sets us free to soar to unimagined heights. Discipline sharpens the human senses, allowing us to savor the subtler tastes of life's experiences. Whether those experiences are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, discipline elevates them to their ultimate reality. Discipline heightens every human experience and increases every human ability. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ invite us to embrace this life-giving discipline.
Many people consider Jesus irrelevant today because he proposes a life of discipline. Is discipline then to be considered the core of Jesus' philosophy? No. Christ proposes a life of discipline not for its own sake, and certainly not to stifle or control us; rather, he proposes discipline as the key to freedom.
In the midst of the complexities of this modern era, we find ourselves enslaved and imprisoned by a thousand different whims, cravings, addictions, and attachments. We have subscribed to the adolescent notion that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, without interference from any authority. Could the insanity of our modern philosophy be any more apparent? Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want. Freedom is the strength of character to do what is good, true, noble, and right. Freedom without discipline is impossible.
Is freedom then to be considered the core of Jesus' philosophy? No. What then, is the core of his philosophy? Well, as it turns out, the people of his own time were curious for an answer to this very question.
One day, while Jesus was teaching a large group of people in the synagogue, a man asked Our Lord a question from his position in the multitude. He was a learned man, one of those doctors of the law who were no longer able to understand the teaching revealed to Moses because it had become so twisted and entangled in the ways of men. He questioned Our Lord, saying, "Teacher, which is the greatest of the Commandments?"
Jesus opened his divine lips slowly, with the calm assurance of somebody who knows what he is talking about and replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole soul. This is the first and the greatest of the Commandments. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two rest the whole law and all the prophets" (Matthew 22:34-40). (Continued on page 5)
Love is the core of Jesus' philosophy. But, in order to love you must be free. For to love is to give your self freely and without reservation.
Yet, to give your self - to another person, to an endeavor, or to God - you must first possess your self. This possession of self is freedom. It is a prerequisite for love, and is attained only through discipline."

now i dont care if you believe in Jesus or Buddha or rutabegas or whatever. it doesn't really matter. the message is what matters, and i find this story to have a very beautiful message. and though this may ostracize me in some ways from certain people, i actually dig Jesus. i dig what he taught about love being the most important thing of all. i dig that he wore sandals and hung out with people with lepresy and challenged the status quo. i also dig Buddha and if i ever had a rutabega, id probably dig that too (like out of the ground. haaaa, ya see what i did there?)

anyway, after reading this piece i thought, "pffff i have the whole loving my neighbor thing down. but discipline? i can't discipline myself!" discipline is hard for me. not only because the word itself evokes images of my Catholic school kilts but also because i want it all. i dont want to deny myself. i want to get everything out of life, i want to suck life dry, i want the whole cake, i want to sleep for 10 hours a day.... i'm afraid if i don't have it all RIGHT NOW then it will go away, that someone else will take it and i won't be able to enjoy it. (hmmm i'd say i have some abundancy/scarcity issues, wouldn't you?)

at the same time that discipline is hard for me (because i don't want to deny myself of anything,) i am also exceedingly cruel to myself for no reason whatsoever. (it's ok if you're confused here, the whole business of "worth" and "worthiness" is confusing to me too.) i told my friend, who shared this piece with me, that loving my neighbor as myself wasn't the hard part for me. i can love other people, no problem. in fact, i love other people WAY MORE and WAY BETTER than i love myself. but Jesus didn't say "love your neighbor more than yourself." he said "love your neighbor as yourself." well, whoa. i am much, much kinder to my friends when they are upset over an issue than i am to myself when i am upset over an issue. with them, i tell them not to worry, that everything will be OK, that they are bigger than any problem they could ever face. but with myself? not so much. i treat myself like a human whipping post at best. and the real question is how well am i actually loving others when i am treating myself so cruelly? probably not as best as i can be. (so pssttt hey mom, i know you're reading this. this means i can only get BETTER at loving you!)

so, hm. loving myself. disciplining myself. these seem like contradictory things don't they? but in order to love ourselves we must be free and freedom comes in disciplining ourselves. good discipline that is self-generated and from a place of self love (not punishment) is discipline that Geneen Roth calls "if love could speak" guidelines. if love could speak it would say, "do you really want that entire cake? won't that hurt your tummy, love?" if love could speak it would say, "why don't you spend 20 minutes cleaning and organizing so that later when you're rushing around and stressed out, you will be able to find things and you won't get upset." discipline is good when we disclipline our minds from NOT thinking negative thoughts about self (uh, that means no more treating the self like a whipping post) and discplining our time by using it productively with things that we realistically need to get done (work, cleaning, etc.) so that we can actually enjoy the time when we get to do nothing.

 in my post about moderation, i talked about moderation being an art form that we must cultivate - an art that the French call "l’équilibre" which means to keep one's balance. it's related to the english word equilibrium which is defined as "a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces." equi = equanimity, equality, balance. libre = freedom. there is freedom in balance. there is freedom in recognizing and holding the opposing forces, the yin and yang, the light and darkness, in each of us. oh and one more thing. i promise this is your last vocabulary lesson of today.... the word discipline? did anyone else notice that it's related to the word disciple? well disciple comes from a Latin word meaning "learner" and discipline comes from one meaning "instruction, knowledge." so that means discipline = constantly learning. practice, practice, practice.  yes, Iverson, we talkin' bout practice, man. practice? yeah, practice. which is good because the past few days have not been too "balanced" for me. in fact, i lost my phone somewhere in a mattress store because my mind was so out of it. but - and here's the kicker - i'm learning as i go. i stumble, i get back up. i stumble, i get back up. i stumble, i get back up. rinse and repeat.

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