"Discipline" kind of has that old school connotation to it, as if it were something your grandfather would admonish our generation for not caring more about. But I've learned through experience that it's often the thing that saves me from myself. I don't know if there is anything valuable in discipline itself, though maybe it's a good way to conquer the will. But it's an extremely helpful tool in your belt when it comes to the spiritual life.
Where It Leads
|St. Michael and Lucifer|
I learned about Opus Dei from my spiritual director and have spent the past few years acquiring a recognition of the necessity for some form of discipline in the spiritual life. You don't have to be an ascetic or practice self-flagellation (usually done with a whip-like device called a "discipline," by the way). But it is helpful to have a playbook, a rubric, or an outline for your spiritual life. You don't have to always stick to the outline but you should be aware of its presence even when you don't.
After learning a little about Opus Dei spirituality, I adopted a few practices. The moment they wake up, they jump up, kiss the floor and say "Serviam!" meaning "I will serve." The phrase itself is an echo of St. Michael who declared he would serve in response to Lucifer's "Non serviam" - 'I will not serve.' I don't jump up and kiss the ground, mostly because I usually hit the snooze. But I've found that if I initially dedicate my day to service, my perspective is much more tuned to God's frequency. If I don't, I have a hard time recalling God in my everyday encounters.
So I've adopted some very practical regiments, most of which are personal. But I'll say I try to begin every day by literally saying out loud, "Serviam! Serviam! Serviam!" As an exegesis professor of mine used to joke in reference to Hebrew, "If you say it three times, you've got it covered."
I give Catholics a lot of credit for building discipline into the life of the Church. These outlines provide a lot of structure that we as humans honestly need.
When I'm doing well and practicing the disciplines I've put in place for myself, my spiritual focus is so much greater. Actually scheduling time for prayer, time for reading (Pope John XXIII said, "just as food is necessary to the life of the body, good reading is necessary to the life of the soul."), and other disciplines has the most remarkable effect: I'm more fully present wherever I am, whatever I'm doing.
Discipline leads to awareness. It leads to living in the present and practicing the purest form of spirituality - "to accept the sacrament of the present moment and to find God in the present moment," as Richard Rohr so brilliantly puts it. When I'm undisciplined, my day passes me by. I come to the end of it as one who arrives at his destination having noticed nothing along the way. (Thank you, GPS.)
It's Background Music
I took a trip to see my family earlier this year and on the way back I had a man sitting next to me on the plane who literally make one comment to me every 10 minutes. Honestly, it was pretty annoying. When I had my headphones in, I was listening to really beautiful music but couldn't hear the man who still made comments to me. I'd have to remove my headphones and ask him to repeat what he said. But when I did that, I couldn't hear any music anymore; I only got the little remarks of the man and the hum of the plane.
Finally I realized that I should just leave one headphone in and let the other ear take in the sounds of the cabin. Voila! Success. I was no longer deaf to the world around me but I still had that music underlying everything I was experiencing. That is what spiritual disciplines are to me. That is what mindful living does for us - it lets us be "in the world" but "not of it." On the plane but not completely filled by that external world.
If I had practical advice, which I feel free to give knowing I don't always follow it myself, I'd say get a morning prayer, the same morning prayer. Dedicate the day to service and love. And add to your routine a few small disciplines, whatever works for you. Start small and give yourself a break; I've given myself plenty. And if you can find the magic formula for sticking to them, you will be aware that your life is increasingly saying, "Serviam! Serviam! Serviam!"
For some ideas of your own disciplines, I highly recommend Pope John XXIII's 10 commandments for daily living and happiness.
Living as a Hypocrite
Of Saints and Halos