The Discipline of Life

In life as in war there are times when the wisest course is simply to stand still, to rest on one’s arms, to watch and to wait. When a mist of uncertainty enshrouds us and life seems to come to a pause, when we do not know just what to do, it is best to await the sunshine of revealing that will show us our way. To active, nervous, energetic natures, keenly hungering for action, the hours of waiting are hard. But they are often necessary; they are part of the discipline of life. It requires more courage sometimes to survive the dull, dead tedium of a siege than the tingling, thrilling exhilaration and excitement of the perils of a close fight.” ~ William George Jordan

There is a time for pushing forward and a time for hunkering and whittling. Both are equally important to sustained progress in living. The key, of course, is found in timing it right.

Hunker and whittle when you should act and your life will stagnate. Push when you should be tarrying and you will burn out prematurely. The oscillation of rest and action are fundamental to effective living and learning to discern and cooperate with the rhythmic pulsations is one of the most important lessons in life that anyone – especially those with a naturally energetic nature – must learn.

Some people take a while to learn their lessons. They charismatically and often monomaniacally try to force nature, the world around them, their circumstances, etc. to conform to their wishes as they seek to accomplish their goals. They seek to impose their will, through intention, or their might through physical force in a way that ignores the larger cycles and seasons in which their worlds are contained. Such people end up wasting their lives (and occasionally losing them) hunting down the Moby Dick’s in their world in an effort to avenge the wounds they received on previous hunts.

Man cannot control nature, neither is he the master of the universe. He is a steward of power, a focus of authority and a means of extending control into the range of creation for which he is responsible. To do so effectively he must learn to balance action and rest.

This balance is not easily struck in the world today. We in the western world, particularly in the American model, are conditioned from a very young age to push and push and when that isn’t enough, to push a little more. Is this a healthy and sustainable approach to living? I have to wonder if we’re not missing much of what is available of living by failing to notice the rests that do appear on the sheet music of life if you are watching and listening carefully to the world around you.


8 thoughts on “The Discipline of Life

  1. So true are your words. An essential lifestyle factor I recommend to my patients is to relax when you can take the moments that arise to come to rest. You have echoed my thoughts in an beautiful way. I very much appreciate the sense of oneness felt when the truth blends us all.


  2. David R

    As you point out, here in America particularly we have been driven by the idea that achievement should always be predominant, while the more ‘being-oriented’ aspects are relegated to either an ‘unfortunate necessity’ category or sometimes to the range of the blowout vacation. The old image, still replayed on TV, of Clark Griswold martialing his family through agonizing vacations comes to mind!

    The fundamental balance in the living of life involves a rhythmic pulsation between the restful, regenerating, reflective times and the intensely concentrated periods of achievement. Too much emphasis on either side derails the creative process. It’s well worth some real examination of our own lives on this score, especially as the tendency is to be rather unconscious of our motivations and their results.


  3. Colin

    I think this is a life truth that is articulated far too little. I also think there are two principles here that can be extrapolated to many other life situations as well. The first is to live life in a balanced way. The second, which also gives the ability to fulfill the first, is to be sensitive enough to be able to discern what the right times are. If you are just deciding what is appropriate without taking the time to really look at the situations that are around you, you will never be able to tell whether it is a “push” time or a “hunker and whittle” time.


  4. Kimberly

    Love the analogy of music rests and our lives. In music if you miss the rest the emphasis will change the intention of the author…could it be for us as well? Poignant subject if we don’t take the time to contemplate it. I love your William Jordan series, thanks.


  5. Rowan

    Watching and listening are critical if we are to know when to act. If we just blindly go about our lives reacting or not acting irrespective of timing, we’ll always feel that things just never work out. Thanks for emphasizing the importance of balance in this.


  6. Ricardo B.

    Great lesson to all seeking balance in life. Part of what makes our universe so beautiful is its inherent rhythmicity – the wonderful patterns it continually reveals in such dynamic ways. As any music lover knows, the rests are just as important as the beats to create a pattern which serves as the scaffold for the various instruments to join and make the music. Various examples exist in our own physiology, from the diurnal rhythms of various hormones in concert with the sun, to their gland’s own pulsed secretions.
    A return to the attuned life requires a good ear to listen and a supple heart to intuit. This is a part of the great art of living, one that this post-industrial era has almost forgotten. Fabulous essay!


  7. Teryl Worster

    It would do all of us good to take a moment to really ponder this post! The world is full of creative, yet exhausted human beings. Just understanding and applying right rhythms of rest and action could save so many of us from sleepless nights and early demise. Thank you!


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