The Power of Spiritual Discipline

Contributor: Greg Richardson
Photographer: Saffron & Sage
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The Power of Spiritual Discipline

Our culture is based in the power of discipline.

Deep inside ourselves we believe, with a little more discipline, we will weigh less and be richer. We convince ourselves we can discipline our way into becoming better people.



Discipline is central to our physical, emotional, economic, and social lives. It is easy for us to assume spiritual life works like all the other aspects of our lives.

We believe in the power of spiritual discipline.

What do we really mean when we talk about spiritual discipline? Are spiritual disciplines the same as spiritual practices?

Do we really believe we can discipline ourselves into stronger spiritual performance?

Both discipline and practice sound like a lot of work.

Discipline seems like it takes organization and perseverance. People with discipline commit themselves to taking whatever steps are necessary to get where they want to go. Discipline sounds to me like it involves believing in a system designed to get results.

Spiritual disciplines seem to be ways to approach training and preparation for achieving goals.

Practice sounds slightly more organic than discipline to me. I think of practicing basketball or a musical instrument, or law, compared to military discipline. People need discipline to continue practicing.

For me, practice probably includes more experimentation or exploring than discipline.

Spiritual practices and disciplines often refer to exercises intended to cultivate spiritual development. Disciplines or practices help people continue on their spiritual journeys. The people on those spiritual journeys are often known as pilgrims or disciples.

Many different spiritual traditions have their own versions of spiritual practices or disciplines. The word yoga, central to many early Buddhist texts, is often translated as “spiritual practice.”

Spiritual Practice and Spiritual Discipline

One of many reasons I am not a good musician is I really do not enjoy practicing.

The word practice brings to mind repeating something over and over. Practicing is something I need to endure.

Practice is something that I have to do, not that I want to do.

Some people say practice makes perfect, but how can that be? Being perfect makes perfect. I am much less likely to do something well the first time I try it. No amount of practice will go back and make those early attempts perfect.

I am also not particularly motivated to be disciplined.

I usually see practice and discipline as challenges, tests I need to pass. If I need to spend fifteen minutes a day practicing, my effort is generally to spend as little of the time actually practicing as possible.

My primary goal in practicing is to be finished and able to say I have already practiced.

When I think about things I do regularly, it is helpful for me not to see them as practicing. I can be motivated to do something every day, gaining experience and learning lessons, as long as I do not call it practicing.

First, it helps me to receive tangible benefits as early as possible. I need to get some joy or feel comfortable or have a sense of accomplishment to motivate me to continue.

Second, I need to value what I am doing. I need to believe in the goal toward which I am working, and believe that what I am doing is moving me toward my goal.

Third, it helps me to see what I am doing not as practicing, but as developing new habits.

What spiritual discipline will we choose to follow in our everyday lives?

The Spiritual Discipline We Choose

One realization changed my understanding of spiritual discipline and practice. I assumed the point of all this discipline was to get to the point where I no longer needed to practice. The way I saw spiritual discipline was like a test in which I needed to earn enough points to pass.

When I saw spiritual practice and discipline in a new light it changed everything.

Spiritual life is not like taking a test or even practicing a musical instrument. We are not trying to earn enough points to achieve anything. Spiritual life is not about getting the highest grade or demonstrating how good we are.

Spiritual life is a relationship. We are exploring how this relationship works.

Trying new spiritual disciplines often teaches me lessons about myself and about spiritual life. Some of them become the building blocks of habits which I incorporate into everyday life. Other disciplines lead me to discover other truths which open my eyes.

There are spiritual practices we can try from many different religious backgrounds. We are always free to create our own practices and find our own discipline.

Whichever practices we decide to explore, the choice of our spiritual discipline is up to us.

Finding the Spiritual Discipline Which Helps Us On Our Journey

I know people who get stuck following certain spiritual disciplines and have been stuck myself. It can be easy to sink into a practice which has become familiar. We might even start to believe it is the practice which is the source of spiritual life for us.

Discipline can be tremendously powerful. It is important for us to remember there is no such thing as the perfect spiritual discipline. We choose practices which help us reflect and understand. There is no one right answer.

The disciplines we choose are not lifelong commitments. We choose to try a practice on like an article of clothing and we decide whether it fits. What fit us before may no longer fit us now.

Spiritual discipline is intended to help us on our journey. It is not a test of our spiritual health or strength.

Where do we find the power of spiritual discipline today?

Which new spiritual discipline will we try this week?