Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is the point of Spiritual Discipline?

I have just returned from a staff retreat in the mountains. In the process of developing more aware and intentional communication techniques for our working community, we also had the opportunity to divulge in the other side of that spectrum and explore the power of silence.

I enjoy silence (a little bit each day) so having time to sit on a porch and untangle a knot of yarn (as was our assignment) was really no problem for me. Mainly, I had to fight the urge to stare at my companions on the porch and wonder what they were thinking as they unknotted their yarn. Silence better suits me, as a spiritual discipline, when I am alone.

At the end of the group discussion about our experience with silence, I was surprised to find that some of the staff was extremely uncomfortable in that space. The act of quieting their minds, hushing the flutter of "need to get done" was really a challenge. I do believe I will be a better colleague now that I have seen that being still and present is often a difficult task even for church workers.

Our guide who led our staff retreat closed by telling a Zen Master's story. I could not get my hands on a copy of it so I will do my best to summarize it here.

A man was training with a Zen master, studying closely all the spiritual practices that his master kept daily. Each new morning the master would offer a tool for awareness and balance to his student. One day, after months of practice, the Zen master told his pupil, " No matter how well you master these practices you will never be able to change the fact that the sun will rise and sink each day." 

The pupil was discouraged and confused because he believed he was learning these practices to gain power over himself and the world he abides in. The pupil asked the question, "If I will not be able to change the rise and fall of the sun then what is the point to keeping all of these practices?"

The Zen master answered:

"So that you will be aware of the rise and the fall of the sun."

Perhaps I butchered the story, but I hope you got the point. This was a good reminder to me that spiritual practices and daily disciplines are not tools to give you control over yourself or the space you inhabit. They don't make you more like God and less like a human. They are simply there to help you gain awareness. It is from awareness that transformation happens so that you grow and change each day. 

I hope on this day that you too will become aware of the rising and the sinking of the sun.