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Spiritual Discipline? Please, Mistress, No!

From Chris Wayan's journal, 1981/7/18

Both Thomas Merton and Shunryu Suzuki warn Western readers not to think Taoism and Zen advocate "mere animal spontaneity." I feel they're wrong: animal spontaneity is not "mere", at least for a minority of us. I agree Western culture LOOKS very undisciplined, but inside, things are more complicated. Many Americans born from mid-century on were fiercely disciplined internally, morally--in reaction. We were told the world would soon end, via bombs or pollution, yet at the same time we were told how lucky we were to be living here and now. We grew up surrounded by moral weaklings armed like gods. A lot of us looked away, and partied, and got stoned. Others got morally very strict inside, precisely because we saw that anything goes.

But some of us overdid it--those most likely to open a book on meditation or mysticism. Our ability to perceive what we really want is quite stunted, but our ability to discipline ourselves to do what we DECIDE is right... oh, that's quite strong enough! So religions that preach facing hard truths, discipline, etc, have special pitfalls for us. Traditional mystical teaching, around the world, aims at people 1) with no discipline or 2) disciplined to follow external, worldly standards. Modern students contain a third group. We have the discipline to follow a path; we do not follow external or conventional paths; and we are aware that we're disciplined, that trying harder is not what's lacking. It's a power we can do damage with, in a poor cause. We need help in another area entirely: clarifying what we want to do with this weapon, this oversharp blade. We hesitate to act, for we have the ability to act effectively, without being sure of the consequences. This mix of traits used to be rare, only possessed by visionary leaders. It's not the normal human condition. Most folks are cushioned by culture, nestled in their faith in religion, law, business, or science.

All these protectors went belly-up like dead goldfish, just as we were growing up.

Without cultural cushioning, we're lost in the Tao. Lao-zi wrily admitted, 2500 years ago, "Oh, yes, I am aimless and depressed. I am different. I am nourished by the Great Mother." Exactly--we ARE nourished, in spirit. But not in action, not in practicality.

I live as if I am (and have been and will be) only a spirit. I need precisely to learn to feel what I feel as an animal. To notice being alive.

Our souls? We need no preparation for the spirit realm--hiding in the cracks of America, we grew up and lived like ghosts all along.


I'm proud--I just noticed my body! My fingers to be exact--getting tired. An animal need it's time to give in to. And so, in mere animal spontaneity, I bid you (my dear earnest, web-searching, meditating friends) good night, good night, good night. May you find the light. But first, may you notice that a stretch and purr would be nice.

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