Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Instilling Discipline and Responsibility in our Lives

--by Angeles Arrien (Jan 04, 2011)

Responsibility is not only the ability to respond to what comes towards us, it is also the capacity to stand behind our actions and to be responsible for all that we do, or do not do. This means that we do not allow ourselves to be in denial, or to be self-indulgent. Our ability to respond impeccably to the circumstances at hand, and with integrity to the events we create brings us into the arena of effective leadership.
This aspect of responsibility is discipline. Discipline is the process of facing life directly and acting without haste. The word discipline actually means “being a disciple unto oneself.” When we are disciples unto ourselves, we honor our own rhythm, ask for help that is needed, and consistently attend to the actions needed, in a step-by-step way. We are most likely to be thrown off course when we have too much to do, or too little to do. These times should act as reminders to engage discipline, to move not rashly, but step-by-step. 
Discipline and responsibility are the leadership tools for honoring structure and function. Land-based peoples know that too much structure or form leads to rigidity and calcification, and too much function or random creativity leads to chaos. Thomas Cleary’s Zen Lessons: the Art of Leadership reminds us that if we do not adhere to the “three don’ts of leadership” we will not only be irresponsible, but we will dishonor the processes of discipline found in all structures and functions: 
“In leadership, there are three don’ts:
     When there is much to do, don’t be afraid; 
     When there is nothing to do, don’t be hasty; and
     Don’t talk about opinions of right or wrong when 
     action can be taken.
A leader who succeeds in these things won’t be confused or deluded by external objects and circumstances.”
When we apply the guidelines of the “three don’ts” in our lives, we honor the inherent aspects of structure and function by instilling discipline and responsibility into all that we do or steward in our lives.
--Angeles Arrien, from her August 2008 Newsletter

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Previous Reflections:

On Jan 4, 2011 Shari wrote:

for you,

Love You


On Jan 5, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:
“In leadership, there are three don’ts:
     When there is much to do, don’t be afraid; 
     When there is nothing to do, don’t be hasty; and
     Don’t talk about opinions of right or wrong when 
     action can be taken.
A leader who succeeds in these things won’t be confused or deluded by external objects and circumstances.”
Thank you. I need to learn this. Much to be gleaned here. CT

On Jan 8, 2011 satish kumar wrote:

one of the most thoughtfull,inspirational and motivational right path one shoud choose in his life.

On Jan 8, 2011 Austin wrote:

This understanding of discipline of being a disciple unto oneself, I find is tremendously liberating.

On Jan 9, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This piece ran deep. I loved the three don'ts, and worked on the last one a little more than the first two: "Don’t talk about opinions of right or wrong when action can be taken."

It brought to mind the story of a monk in India in the last century, who, upon awakening, came to the realization that there was too much disunity in Indian society, with people arguing that their spiritual sect had it right and not spending as much time on their practice. Instead of arguing or lecturing about this, the monk took an unusual step. He picked a sect other than his own, and reflected on the biggest problem faced by that sect's followers. That sect's followers would often be plagued by bandits as they embarked on a pilgrimage to their main temple. The monk established a shelter for these pilgrims, aimed at feeding and protecting them as they undertook their spiritual journey, while himself never bothering to visit the temple. After this gave a lot of value, he proceeded to establish such shelters all over India at major pilgrimage spots for different sects, and gave out the message of unity with his actions. When enjoying the fruits of peace and unity, I find myself being grateful to heroes like this, who cared not for name and fame, and indeed, there are many like this whose names we will never find out, but whose gigantic anonymous acts of kindness enrich our lives and if we are lucky, expand our own commitment to right action.

I also reflected on my training in Decision Analysis, where we emphasize action - only those debates are worth getting into that will change our action. If we know that our action will not change,  then debating the rightness of our beliefs or values is a waste of time.

Chris opened wonderfully and I'm hoping he will share it here too. What stood out for me was his coining of "valuesgraha," (commitment to values) akin to "satyagraha" (commitment to truth).

CFDad encouraged us to share our new year's resolutions. That brought another monk story to mind. Spending new year's eve with a monk, I found myself in a care center for the elderly (as the monk was taking care of someone). All around me were the really old. One was unable to eat any more and had tubes in his stomach. Another thought I was a particular person even after several clarifications. Yet another could not stop thanking us in Italian for over a half hour for a reason that was not clear to us. I had accepted that the body would have to go, but seeing that the mind also has to go is a sobering wake up call. If we are all body and mind, then there is really no hope at the end. The monk looked at me and said, "We are in queue, awaiting our privilege. We take birth, which is not necessarily painless, but the middle part is our fun time, and yet, we have an aversion to the end. How can that be? The game has to be completed." "This underscores the need to see that which is behind all this." By "that," he emphasized something beyond the body and the mind, that we all have different labels for, and yet, no label can contain it.

Later, when I asked for life advice, "As you've seen, all that we have will be taken from us for sure. Then, why not give it away in the service of others before it gets taken from us." More advice, "Focus on what is really essential." Keeps getting better.

My new year's resolution is to stop hoarding and start giving. By this, I really don't mean at a material level, but at the deepest level of the gifts that I wake up to each day. On my last day, I doubt if anything could suck more than that my gifts rotted with me and helped very few.

I loved hearing others' resolutions, on awareness, integrity, etc. Made me feel as always that we are in a circle of kindred spirits, although many of us have never met each other. :) Pancho did not share three things, so I am really looking forward to read some online sharings.

CFMom gave a rare glimpse into the incredible work that goes into making a Wednesday happen. This evening, she was at Trader Joe's, and found that they had no bread, ostensibly due to a computer failure. She had to make last minute adjustments from elsewhere to ensure that we had enough bread to eat, causing her to come in a little late. And the only concern she had was that she should enter silently so as not to disturb our meditation. As the last don't went in this passage, just by being herself, she shows us each week what it means to not debate right or wrong when there is an opportunity to serve. One can only smile in gratitude.

On Jan 9, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:

Somik, your reflection moved me to tears. Beautifully said; every last bit of it. CT

On Jan 10, 2011 Varsha wrote:

Thanks for all your sharings.


Somik, I appreciate your online sharing, as it helped me feel I was there.  I am practicing being a silent witness (from here).  Could identify with what many shared.  Although the group I sat with shared different perspectives, I took away from the passage the terms discipline, responsibility, and capacity/capability, and what they really mean to each of us.  It is in the application of these in our lives that I feel makes a difference.


Discipline: self-control or regulation

Responsibility: the ability to respond, our duty

Capacity/Capability: how capable/able we are, our potential


I relate these with the heart.  In all, what we are able to hold within our hearts can reflect out in the world.  So, discipline (even though is usually regarded as individualistically) can also be a practice that many embody; a more universal responsibility that we carry can help make the world a better place, and how capable we are to achieve this is a result of our discipline/practice.  I related these with a story of the observation of the masses during the holiday season—more gentleness, generosity, giving (in different forms—financially, gifting, practicing giving—all charitable endeavors).  Talking about a steel-drum player I heard on the subway platform and witnessing people connecting to the music (even though he was not playing holiday-themed songs) made me think how we can connect/identify/relate to people we may not normally (I think one way is through individual spiritual practice).


In terms of the 3 do/don'ts, I couldn’t quite grasp the 2nd one, as when there is nothing to do (even though to some level—there is always something one can do), I would think people may just get lazy and twiddle their thumbs. 


Our circle was questioning the context of this passage, in referring to land-based peoples.  Was this a term of reference as opposed to sea-faring people or Native/Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples? I think some of us thought we should have read Thomas Cleary’s Zen Lessons as a passage instead—possibly a future reading?   


On Jan 25, 2011 Pancho wrote:

My family calls me Pancho and I'd like you to know that I love you all. 

As unusual as it is for me to not share some points on Wednesdays, the flow was proper to expand the sharing via the magic of electron land. Here we are able to deepen our interactions and learning from each other. These are the 3 points that were inhabiting my mind and heart that Wednesday.
1. Servant Leaders & the Salt Satyagraha
2. Spiritual Discipline
3. Collective Wisdom
1. Servant Leaders & the Salt Satyagraha
One of the best examples of servant leadership and one of the most impressive nonviolent direct actions of all times was the Salt Satyagraha. In happened on March 12th, 1930 on the part of the Planet we call India. It was a civil disobedience campaign to shake the British colonial rule to the core. A spiritual community, characterized by servant not leaders, decided to never come to their Ashram until achieving independence. And they did.
How one can achieve such a gargantuan and courageous task?
2. Spiritual Discipline
The foundations of being the change we want to see in the Universe is grounded on spiritual discipline. To cultivate a strong determination to follow love and truth no matter what happen to us, it requires a lot of practice to still our mind and exercise our courage. Who started the Salt Satyagraha campaign? Gandhi and 78 satyagrahis had developed a deep devotion to the pursuit of Truth, nonviolence, fearlessness and humility, and lived on a daily basis the principles of egalitarianism, co-operation, equitable distribution of resources, respect for all faiths and Nature, and simplicity. This is a life time endeavor. They spent 15 years living in community building trust among one another in a joyous form of spiritual discipline. Right before the march he wrote, "When I am Arrested"
"So far as I am concerned, my intention is to start the movement only through the inmates of the Ashram and those who have submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit  of its methods. Those, therefore, who will offer battle at the  very commencement will be unknown to fame. Hitherto the Ashram has been deliberately kept in reserve in order that by a fairly long course of discipline it might acquire stability. I feel, that if the Satyagraha Ashram is to deserve the great confidence that has been reposed in it and the affection lavished upon it by friends, the time has arrived for it to demonstrate the qualities implied in the word satyagraha. I feel that our self-imposed restraints have become subtle indulgences, and the prestige acquired has provided us with privileges and conveniences of which we may be utterly unworthy. These have been thankfully accepted in the hope that some day we would be able to give a good account of ourselves in terms of satyagraha. And if at the end of nearly 15 years of its existence, the Ashram cannot give such a demonstration, it and I should disappear, and it would be  well for the nation, the Ashram and me."
3. Collective Wisdom
It is impossible for a single man to go to the Moon or achieve Independence or run the Internet because we are interdependent. Our existence is based upon the interbeing of all the subjects in the Universe. We are not isolated. When it comes to celebrate the higher aspirations of humanity we must relay on each other without forgetting that, at the same time, all the answers are within ourselves.It is a fine balance between self-government and vulnerable dependence. 
When brother Hari came to Wednesdays he later wrote a insightful remark here. He said: 
"A persons Reality is based on their experience,  But have you experienced everything? No." 
While I was aware of perspectivism, the way hermano Hari shared this truth served me to acquire a new profound dimension. Take the example of Vinoba Bhave who was celibate since he was 13 years old. The insights one must have during puberty and young adulthood most be quite powerful and grounding when one is in this celibacy framework. At the same time, those who have experienced the magic of making love with a partner can testify about the beauty of connecting with another human being with not only one, or two or three but all six senses. The beauty of appreciating everyone's perspective is that otherwise our reality is incomplete. Vinobaji wasn't able to experience how it feels to wake up surrounded by the arms of your beloved and a new born after a night of compassionate deep making love, and I am not able to ever experience how if feels to harness all that energy of the late twenties to do constructive work to unify humanity the way Vinobaji did. But when we put all our perspectives and experiences together, the Grand Human Family starts to operate as a unity.
Think and feel about human cells now. For example, while a red blood cell brings nutrients and oxygen to other cells, a fibroblast maintains the structural integrity of connective tissues (like our pumping heart!). It is impossible for the red cell and the fibroblast to "experience" the same function at the same time (or at any time!) but combined they are part of the ~30 trillion cells that are making possible for me to write this words and for you to read this ideas. The two cells are part of a grand human body operating in heart unity, literally ;-)
That said, it is undreamed the potential we have to develop our unique and individual sensitivities to awaken our most profound self in the pursuit of an evolving consciousness. We most support each other, we must learn from each other's perspective and experience. It is easier to have trillions of cells doing small tasks than 1 cell doing trillion tasks. The collective energy of a group is incredibly powerful to support our individual journeys. We must rely on our collective experience, our collective wisdom to let the Universal Love flow through our cells, organs, bodies, families, society and through the entire Earth Community.
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.

On Jan 25, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:

Dear Pancho, you wrote: "This is a life time endeavor" and that it took 15 years of community living and more. Thank you for pointing that out! I thought I was a failure because I had not "gotten it yet." But I see progress step by step and day by day. I am so grateful to have found this site. Gracias, amigos!

On Mar 16, 2011 Chris wrote:

In discipline + responsibility I heard a new term emerging to try to encapsulate the immense human capacity that is conveyed in all this.

I love the perspective on discipline of "becoming a disciple unto yourself" -- deeply examining your actions, words, thoughts throughout life and constantly learning, growing. And the meaning of responsibility invoked was not only one of actions we can (and are called to) take, but also a level of awareness of the effects of our actions.

It occurs to me that when one cultivates values of truth, equanimity, love, beauty, kindness, compassion, this level of action, self-reflection, and awareness begins to arise naturally. Discipline and responsibility as words, then, don't easily convey this depth, especially as those words are used in a slew of other contexts, diluting their potency. 

So I thought back to Gandhi needing a new term for nonviolent civil disobedience (which was incorrectly viewed as "passive") and holding a naming contest :) which eventually birthed the term "satyagraha" -- commitment to truth.

Then why not "value-graha" -- commitment to values? Satyagraha meant that you could take a beating from someone and still look him in the eyes with love. What if we took this sense of responsibility and discipline and applied it to whatever we find ourselves in front of? Not in a forced way that the term discipline sometimes implies -- I imagine you can't force yourself to wish well one who delivers a blow to you, it either naturally arises from a deep commitment to values or it doesn't -- but in a self-regenerative way of acting from deeply cultivated values and constantly self-reflecting, self-reflecting to continue deepening into them, and then again acting...

On Mar 17, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:

Chris, what you are saying makes so much sense. There have been instances where I could not be angry at someone who tried to hurt me (threatened to kill me, actually) because I knew that this person was mentally ill or simply no good. I really believe this was a devil's disciple, and could not help himself. He would ALWAYS make the "wrong choice." He could do nothing but evil. It was his nature.

But how in the world does one "take a beating from someone and still look him in the eyes with love?" What am I missing that I am one of those who can't force myself to wish well one who delivers a blow?"

You point out that "it either naturally arises from a deep commitment to values or it doesn't --" but does that mean I have no commitment to values? I must be so far off the mark as to not be able to recognize any of this notion of "love for one's enemies" as I simply cannot see my way clear to understand that those that I trusted have betrayed me and tried to destroy me.

The addicted devil that pretended to be a "friend" couldn't help himself - or did not want to help himself - given the horrendous environment he was raised in. But I come from an upper-middle class environment of education and religion, and these people are in many ways WORSE thant that self-professed "gutter rat" was. These people are hypocrites to the extreme, and they are in positions of some power. How to "look at them with eyes of love" when they are bent on destroying anyone who stands in their way of the lies that they tell and the hypocrisies they promote? Are we supposed to look at Hitler with "eyes of love?"


I remember reading a story about the letters Gandhi wrote to Hitler, calling him "friend." As if that was going to stop that cruel and heartless, mentally ill madman. Is that what we are supposed to do? How to find compassion for people who "should know better" when it does not arise "naturally?" Are we to have compassion for the pit bulls and the vipers of this world?


And if so, how does that change things? We are smiling at them as we die from their bites?


I am such a novice at all this. I can barely understand a word people are saying here, and I have heard it all my life. The reality is that I know nothing and don't know what good any of this really does. But I can't stop trying. I am grateful for discussions such as these. Maybe light will be shed in the dark corners and rooms in my mind.



On Mar 17, 2011 Chris wrote:

Catherine, those strike me as some deep and personal questions. Rilke said (essentially) that we must *live* the questions, until we find ourselves, one unexpected day, living the answers. Perhaps there are only so many times we can *ask* the question with words, before we start living the questions.  For me, it eventually comes back to self knowledge. And I think meditating is a beautiful way to gain self-knowledge. There are many ways to gain self-knowledge and many ways to approach meditation -- here's one. And yes, may light be shed in the dark corners and rooms of all of our minds!

On Jul 30, 2014 someone wrote:

this is not for what i was searching for

On Mar 29, 2015 Smitha775 wrote: