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Exterior Discipline


This is the fourth teaching in the Cafh course “Nuances of Prayer.” In our prayers we invoke the divine presence, which we traditionally call the Divine Mother, and we give a very wide scope to the term prayer. It embraces not only words, but also practices and our effort or asceticism to unfold and deepen all our relationships. The teaching opens with a quotation from a collection of Messages addressed to members of Cafh.

Through our inner work we progressively disengage ourselves from the mental and emotional confusion which cloud our vision of the spiritual ideal, block our understanding and mar our relationship with ourselves and others. Above all, we work on our habits of self-satisfaction, self-pity and self-justification.

“If I had only known. . . .” “If I had only realized. . . .” These after-the-fact reflections help us understand what happened but rarely help us to prevent painful mistakes. The habit of reflecting becomes activated with pain, failure or problems. When everything seems to be going well we tend to think, “Who needs reflection?” We also sometimes think we don’t need asceticism at all, that experience is enough to teach us. But the unexpected death of a loved one, a serious health problem, the loss of a job, or any other crisis, causes us to lose our serenity, or even the discernment we could have had.

Experience always teaches. Sometimes through endless repetition, other times because it forces us to a disattachment we were not prepared for. Other times we are confronted with situations which make it evident that the way we live is erratic. But what do we get out of all this? How much do we really learn from what experience teaches us? What system do we use so as not to repeat the same fruitless experiences again and again, so as not to crystallize such repetition into a way of being, so as to be able to give what life asks of us without having to have it dragged from us by force, submerging us in pain and despair?

If we make a habit of reflection and develop a program to put into practice what we learn from reflection, it is possible we can free ourselves from the chains of blind experience.

Our asceticism is made up of the following practices and all that they imply: meditation exercises, study of the teaching, spiritual counsel, looking at our behavior, accepting feedback, having strategies in place to avoid repeating situations which lead nowhere. The more continuous our exterior discipline is, the surer will be its results.

On the other hand, we can’t underestimate the moments of stopping during the day, “taking a snapshot” of ourself at any given instant, observing ourself, taking a moment for recollection amidst the whirlwind of work, of celebrations, while out in the street or in the car.

A young man tells of how he once used the practice of the discipline of “taking a snapshot” of himself. It was at a moment when he found himself criticizing a family member very bitterly and disdainfully for his habit of making destructive judgments on his relatives and friends. He tells of how that “snapshot” was much more valuable to him than years of working to know himself. He realized many things about himself as he saw himself in that moment, but he learned especially that he was doing exactly what he criticized the other for doing. He didn’t see his own separativity because it was hidden in his arrogance of thinking himself above others. No matter how obvious this cover-up is, we don’t recognize it until we decide to see ourselves as we really act, think and feel.

One thing is to “think” we are this or that way, another is to take the “snapshot” and see ourselves without the filter of justifications.

Whether we repeat the Divine Mother’s name, elevate our thoughts with the intention of assisting the sick, make a short prayer in a free minute or two, or “take a snapshot” of ourselves, all these are acts of presence which give us knowledge about ourselves and deepen our love for the Divine Mother and for souls.

Self-control gradually becomes spontaneous as we practice exterior discipline. Since we know the effort it has cost us to achieve this continuity, we encourage those who make the same effort, we are charitable to those who fall along the way, and understand those who still see no need for discipline. Since we could also find ourselves in any of these situations at any moment, we practice tolerance, charity and understanding with ourselves, too. Ascetic discipline thus develops love and compassion when it is practiced out of love for spiritual unfolding. Asceticism would have no meaning if it didn’t help us understand human nature, with its weaknesses and greatness.

We don’t find shortcuts on the spiritual path, nor do we take great leaps to achieve unfolding. We carry on a work which is continuous, loving, serious and reflective, which unites us with souls little by little, and which allows us to live in peace in the Divine Mother’s presence. Bullet

The course “Nuances of Prayer” is available in its entirety on the Cafh website: www.cafh.org. The teaching published here has been adapted slightly for the purpose of serving as a Feature on the Seeds site.