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Reclaiming Discipline: A life Lived with Intention

discipline

ˈdɪsɪplɪn/

noun

noun: discipline

     1.     the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.

    "a lack of proper parental and school discipline"

    2.     a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.

    "sociology is a fairly new discipline"   

 

Wow. No wonder people hate the word discipline.  It’s often equated with punishment, correcting a perceived disobedience.  We are free people, we should be able to do what we want, when we want, so long as it harms none. Life is for living, right?

Of course, I would agree with the above, that we are free, that life is for living. However, I’m also here to reclaim the word discipline into something that is positive.

We live in a world filled with instant gratification.  We have IPhones and tablets that can “connect” us with people anywhere, anytime, so that we never have to be alone (even in a crowd of people).  We have hundreds upon hundreds of television channels that tempt us into thinking that something better than the current moment we are living in is on the tube.  We have internet to answer all questions at the push of a button.  We have access to food 24/7 (most of us) – we’re usually never too far away from our larders or a shop.  We love to “treat” ourselves. Marketing has told us that “we’re worth it”, or making us feel that we’re not good enough, and with their product we will be.  Problems solved, instantly.

Now, this isn’t a blog post about self-denial, asceticism or anything similar.  It is about truly seeing and understanding our needs versus our desires. Our modern world has twisted our desires into needs, and it is up to us to rebalance, to rejig our way of thinking in order to live a life filled with more intention.

I work three jobs, alongside my work as a Druid priest.  Time can be in pretty hard demand sometimes, but planning makes it all work. It takes effort, but that is what discipline is: effort made in order to improve a situation, to live a life of intention, to learn more about integration and compassion.

A lot of people are overweight in Western society.  We are surrounded by food all the time, with little of it all that nutritious; we have temptation all around in petrol stations, cornershops or chippys.  When we feel  a pang of hunger, it’s usually not too hard to satisfy that hunger.  If we do satisfy it with high fat, high sugar foods that we crave (whether this is an ancestral thing or not is still up for debate in the scientific community) we will put on the pounds.  If, like me, your hormones are going haywire as your fertility is coming to a close, your metabolism slowing down considerably, you understand how difficult it can be to simply maintain the weight you are currently at, even with increased exercise and thoughtful eating. Yet how hungry are we, really, and how much do we really need to eat to satisfy that hunger?

A good thing to do is to stock your home with only nutritional food – we all know what that is. Fruits and vegetables, pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds, etc.  Some may say that it is more expensive to buy good food, but good, dedicated shopping can have you coming out of a shop spending about £10 and having pretty much enough food to feed a single person for a week. I know, I did it last week.

I know what true hunger feels like. In the past, it was sometimes a choice between feeding my cat or feeding myself (cat always got fed).  But I also now know how much I need to eat to feed that hunger, when it arises, and whether it is true hunger or simply a desire to eat. Waiting a while to see if you’re truly hungry helps – maybe a glass of water might do the trick. Waiting for a while after you finish eating allows your body time to process whether you need more food or not – it can take a while for your stomach to talk to your brain. 

It takes more time, of course, as you won’t have instant meals you can just microwave.  What I do is either on a Sunday or a Monday I make my cooked meals for the week – a batch of curry or chili, a lasagne or pasta sauce, etc.  You then have enough for a meal that night, leftovers for another night in the week, and can freeze individual portions for “instant meals” when you’re on the go. Sandwiches with homemade mushroom pate or salad for lunch. Oatmeal for breakfast, or a fruit smoothie. Fruit and nuts to snack on.

Meditation requires a lot of discipline.  So many people say that they can’t, when all it can take is just two minutes a day. Pretty much anyone can plan two minutes a day to just sit or lie down in silence, finding some stillness. My back went out last week (again) and I was unable to sit up for three days.  I could still meditate, however. In fact, it was a great opportunity to meditate even more, even though I was lying down to do it. We can meditate in hospital rooms and in office loos.  We can incorporate walking meditation into our daily routines – a mindful walking practice as we walk from the bus to our building, as we stand in line at the checkout.  Meditation is simply the art of paying attention.  For me, sitting meditation is still the best, and the resulting benefits from a daily practice of around two 20 minute sessions percolates into everyday life.  Others might not manage that much, some might be able to do more, but with planning we all should be able to include this important contemplative aspect into our lives in order to live a less reactionary life, and instead live one filled with mindful intention.

Lately I’ve been very mindful of what I am bringing into my home.  Does it make my home beautiful? Do I love it enough to buy it, to keep it forever? If the answer is no, then I won’t buy it.  We can look at our impulse buying as well, and write down something that we see that we think we want. If in a month’s time we still want it, then we don’t have to deny ourselves the pleasure of having it if it won’t hurt us financially or otherwise in obtaining it. (Note: this works mostly for new things – if you see something in a charity shop, chances are if you wait it won’t be there when you go back for it. An on the spot decision about need, what it adds to your life needs to be made there and then, usually.) We shouldn’t live beyond our means.  We don’t have to be monks or nuns either, with only two or three worldly possessions. 

It took me a couple of years to work my way out of debt that I created by living constantly in an overdraft, supporting partners in previous relationships and paying off a loan as part of a divorce settlement.  But setting aside money each month helped me clear it, and I no longer have a credit card or an overdraft.  It was tough, but I managed, and am so thankful for it now.  My hard-earned money is spent on things that I love, or things that I love doing.  Not buying new clothes (only charity shop clothing) for a year helped me save enough money to spend a weekend in a yurt, for instance.

Now I am in a much better position financially, after clearing debts and making good investments, alongside finding some pretty amazing work. 

I love the idea of a monastic way of life.  Living a life that makes time for your religion, that makes it a daily practice of living in service to your gods, utterly devoted has such huge appeal to me.  Filled with discipline in terms of daily prayer, meditation and work I try to incorporate elements of monasticism into my daily practice, into my life.  In the beginning, sometimes I didn’t want to meditate. I didn’t want to get up at dawn and greet the rising sun with prayer.  But with a little discipline, I got into the habit and then began to love it more and more.  What a joy to be able to sing to the dawn, what a pleasure to meditate afterwards!  Sometimes illness or changes to routine such as travelling prevented me from keeping to a strict schedule, but then daily prayer can happen at any time, anywhere, as can meditation.

Discipline need not be a form of punishment. It can enrich our lives, make us see beyond our desires and understand our needs.  It can put us in touch with our selves better, when the distractions of modern living can hold sway.  It’s not a bad word – it’s a word that is filled with potential, with new beginnings, with awen. Let’s see it as a branch of knowledge, as in the second description at the beginning of this post.  Let’s see it as a branch of knowledge, in and of itself.

May we all live more intentionally, awake and aware to the beauty of the natural world.

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  Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion.  

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