Reconsidering discipline and discipleship

Let us begin with Henri Nouwen’s careful reflections on the mutual dependency of discipline and discipleship. Discipleship, he writes,

calls for discipline. Indeed, discipleship and discipline share the same linguistic root (from discere, which means “to learn from”), and the two should never be separated. Whereas discipline without discipleship leads to rigid formalism, discipleship without discipline ends in sentimental romanticism. (Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit 18)

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The skeptic’s lukewarm mood

A brief excerpt from a forthcoming guide, Cultivating Discipline Lightly, which is to serve as a companion to the course I am teaching at Kaos Pilots from Sept. 9-13. Enjoy.

In all of this, it is evident that the skeptic, an allegorical figure of Estrangement, is absolutely unwilling to play along. Out of hubris, she continues to drag her heels and thinks, from the outset and throughout, that she has nothing whatsoever to learn. Of course, it is not that the skeptic is a know-it-all. On the contrary, it is simply that there is nothing for anyone to learn. ‘Who says?’ in many contexts can be translated as ‘I am unwilling to find out if something could be known about myself, about the world because there is nothing to find out, no adventure to undertake, nothing more prudent in this world but to be cautious, wary, and suspicious.’

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‘Now being seen off, now seeing off…’

Kenko writes, ‘In all things, it is the beginnings and the ends that are interesting.’ A greeting, a farewell; a fresh hello, a tender adieu. In Robert Aitken’s translation of Basho’s haiku, we observe the farewell at its most elemental: ‘Now being seen off, Now seeing off–the outcome: Autumn in Kiso.’

What is of interest, of aesthetic interest here, which is to say, in life: is it what goes on or what does not? But what goes on dulls the senses and weakens the heart. The full moon cannot hold us for long nor can the long-talker. A house done-up fancies, in its ever-sameness, that it will never perish, a housekeeper rendering this true and timeless. But then beauty! Beauty! What quivers the spirit, wavering it, aching it back–what except the fever of existence?

There is nothing worse than a house that is too done up…

‘A house, I know, is but a temporary abode, but how delightful it is to find one that has harmonious proportions and a pleasant atmosphere. One feels somehow that even moonlight, when it shines into the quiet domicile of a person of taste, is more affecting than elsewhere. A house, though it may not be in the current fashion or elaborately decorated, will appeal to us by its unassuming beauty–a grove of trees with an indefinably ancient look; a garden where plants, growing of their own accord, have a special charm; a verandah and an open-work wooden fence of interesting construction; and a few personal effects left carelessly lying about, giving the place an air of having been lived in.’

Yoshida Kenko, Essays in Idleness

There is nothing worse than a house that is too done up and crammed full of stuff. No room in a vast mansion that’s been done up–save the roughly hewn kitchen–invites loitering, loafing, or lingering. The living room is a set piece for a drama never to be filmed; the dining room is a museum without the identifying placards; the bedroom is sanitized of life and eros. Throughout the tour, the guest looks cautiously but has no desire to touch and stay, and moves on hurriedly in hopes of seeing simple natural beauties again. Once outside, he makes haste to stretch his lungs and does a sun salutation without so much as a single thought of embarrassment.

A home–which does not blush in displaying its ‘unassuming beauty,’ whose look, like a grove of trees, is ‘indefinably ancient,’ a place where the occupants can look out freely yet also feel secluded–would produce the desired effect: humility and sensitivity disclosing the inner feel of things.

Rip Van Winkle: A parable

Rip Van Wrinkle, writes Washington Irving, was ‘sorely perplexed,’ and nearly everything about him, including his appearance, had changed. His musket had rusted over, his beard had grown down to his waist, and the public places he used to frequent were no longer there or were in a state of disarray. In place of his old friends, who had once issued ‘idle speeches’ and chatted away the hours, were voices emitting a ‘perfect Babylon jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.’

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