I am reminded again that relationships with God and others take practice.
When I was a child and took music lessons my parents would constantly prod me to practice. Any musician or athlete knows that it takes lots of practice, sometimes tedious practice to develop any sense of ease and freedom in playing. Being a musician I know this and only wish that I had spent more time in practice! We may initially resent our parents or others who lovingly prod and push us to be the best that we can be. In retrospect we may find that they have given us a great gift!
I know it takes lots of practice to develop a talent, but why is it that I think my relationship with God and others should just come automatically? Those skilled at relationships take time working at them. How often do I take the time to resolve an issue in a relationship? Sometimes we just go on, never really talking through or resolving the issue. In terms of our relationship with God, it also takes practice. They don’t call it “spiritual practice,” or “practicing faith” for nothing! But sometimes I get so tired of practicing – taking the time to meditate and pray whether alone or with others. It seems like such a waste of time. There’s so much else to be done!
It is only in daily practice that I gain any skill, depth and freedom as a musician or an athlete and it takes daily practice to gain that same skill, depth and freedom in loving relationships, whether with people or with God. What practices do I have in place that develop my relationship with God and others?
I have so NOT been into my zazen sitting/meditation practice lately! The sweetness has disappeared and sometimes it takes everything for me to stay with the meditation and not bolt! I simply don’t want to do it! I’m not feeling anything. It doesn’t seem like I’m getting anything out of it.
It’s precisely during times like these when I should stay with it.
Developing any kind of disciplined practice is countercultural. We live in a culture which basically says: when ya stop feeling it – move on to something else. That’s why we live in a “throw away” society, where we see much brokenness in relationships.
Whether it is in my job, my writing, my meditation practice, my relationship/s, my music practice – it’s precisely when the going gets tough, boring or unfulfilling that I should stick with it. Just because I’m not “feeling” it doesn’t mean that nothing’s happening. Just become I’m not “feeling” it doesn’t mean I should stop my practice or acts of love toward another. Something magical actually happens when we stick with it.
In the book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict Norman Fisher, a Zen priest, married man and co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center for five years says this: “After going through a time when you don’t enjoy your practice (add here job, relationship, exercise etc), you learn that the tough time is always where the reward comes in.” Somehow in the process of sticking with something or someone a greater depth, fulfillment and freedom is developed within us.
So, even though I don’t wanna, . . .can I keep trudging along and discover the reward that exists on the other side of boredom?
Remember a time in your life when your passions were running amuck? Remember when you used to stay out too late, drink too much and could barely remember the name of the person or persons you had sex with the night before? Remember a time when you just ran after pleasure, any way you could get it? Perhaps you are one who has been blessed not to have gone through such a time. Or perhaps, like a lot of us, we are still tempted and, at times, run after pleasure only to find ourselves empty once again.
Passion is a good thing! But unbridled passion leads to emptiness. Part of being free is having the ability to make good choices which lead us to good places in life. Paul puts it this way. His word “flesh” I would translate as unbridled passion. “It is obvious what proceeds from the flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, idolatry, rage, envy, drunkenness, orgies, bickering . . .” (See Galatians 5: 18-25)
And believe me, I’m no prude! Been there. Done that. And still do at times! But think back to a time when your incessant search for happiness was focused purely in people, places or things began to drive you, instead of you driving it. Were you REALLY happy? I don’t find myself happy when my passion is running every which way. However, when I am focused and doing what I need to stay that way, I am much more peaceful, happy and serene. Life might not be very “exciting” but it’s good, really good!
“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness . . .” (See Galatians 5: 18-25)
I wish I could take credit for the title of today’ post, but I can’t. This was the title of a talk given by the Dean of Students when I was a Freshman in College. Here we were, a bunch of Freshman in College bursting at the seems to be free of our parents, free of the constraints of High School and free to party hardy, just waiting to dive into every experience that our new found freedom could possibly give us! And then he gives us a talk about the tyranny of freedom and the freedom of discipline. Even if I forgot the truth of what he spoke over various times in my life, I never forgot the title – and it’s truth comes back to me again and again.
Discipline is not a dirty word. And complete freedom, with no boundaries, can lead to tyranny and lots of unfocused, dispersed energy running all over the place! Look at the children of parents who give them free reign. Look at society and the world when the common good is displaced for the comfort and convenience of a few. Look within.
Discipline is that which leads us to freedom. Look at any musician, athlete, artist, writer, parent, therapist or business person. Look at anyone who is good at what they do and chances are, behind all of that we will see hours and hours, days, weeks and years of practice honing their craft which lead them to the freedom of expression they now enjoy and from which others benefit. If I am not disciplined in body, mind and spirit, my energy is dispersed and my living unfocused. When I am disciplined in body, mind and spirit – this investment of time leads to a stream of physical and spiritual energy that is focused and a love that is outreaching.
Of course discipline can become a tyranny if it is not balanced with the freedom of relaxation and play. All work, no play makes us dull people indeed! But if we’re all play and little work, we will also find our energies dissipated and our body/spirits lifeless. Get the spiritual and physical endorphins going with a little discipline today!