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Balancing Discipline and Self-Acceptance

March 20, 2009

A faithful soldier went to ask John, Christ’s disciple, for his teachings. The soldier found John playing with some bunnies. He was taken aback and somewhat offended to see such a famous mystic being so silly and child-like and expressed his confusion aloud. John simply smiled and said, “As a soldier, do you keep your bow always strung and pulled tightly?” (Traditional)

There is far less emphasis in Hermetics on “self-esteem” and similar ideas than is generally seen in Western culture today. The reason is that Hermetics emphasizes practice over simply philosophizing, and spiritual practice of any sort requires discipline. It is important to remember, however, that we must learn compassion for ourselves before we can unreservedly show it for others.

The greatest intellectual problem confronting Western thought is that of two-valued Aristotelian logic. Most questions in life are not simple either/or; life is not a “true or false” test, but instead more closely resembles a long string of multiple choice and essay questions. In our present discussion, this manifests in one of two tendencies:

  1. Disciplining ourselves so harshly that we are always miserable and full of unproductive guilt or;
  2. Being so kind to ourselves that we are lazy in our spirituality.

We all know on some level that there’s a moderate approach to most issues, but we often fail to find it when we’re in the midst of dealing with some issue in practice. In this case, the solution is simple: devise a daily spiritual practice and stick to it, but don’t put ridiculous expectations upon your human shoulders.

I can give you an example from my life: I have a set routine of spiritual practices which takes about 30 minutes every day. I add to it as appropriate for long or short terms, but rarely subtract without very good reason (and even then, I often add something else in the open place). I allow myself to shorten my daily routine in cases of emergency or illness (and only when I absolutely cannot help it) and even allow myself one day a month to skip all spiritual practices entirely as a rest break (though I don’t take it every month, only when I need it).

Find your own balance, being neither too hard nor too easy on yourself. It is through “effortless work” that we achieve.

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