When we hear the word discipline, we immediately think of toil, sweat and deprivation. Over the centuries, the once beautiful word has been distorted to mean something akin to punishment. But at its root a disciple is someone who devotes themselves to something they love.
I am hitching to Argenta, land of goats and caravans, when I meet a young woman on the road. She is barely twenty, cheeks full of petals and flush, and the only student I’ve ever met who loves school in her final year. That’s because, she explains, she’s doing a degree in Recreation, Fish and Wildlife, a program predominantly carried out in the field; camping, hiking, grokking the magnificence of nature.
As she speaks about the organism that is our planet, how its wisdom informs her life, she comes alive with fire and wonder.
We’re waiting together under the high sun of noon for a ride to the next town when I realise I have a small window to ask the perfect person the question I’ve been carrying. “Why is it so easy for us to be amazed by the beautiful, interconnected, mathematical genius of Earth…but even as Her very organs – her eyes and ears – we hate ourselves?”
Just then, a pickup truck swerves to the side of the road and motions for us to hop in the cab, which we do. We are barreling along the Kootenay curves, our hair whipping around our faces, snow-capped peaks jagging out across the lake when she answers.
Her response is like a runoff creek, pounding and rushing forward with the very confidence of gravity.
She says our self-hatred is actually loneliness. It is the pain of our separation from the Family of Things. We have created a self-referencing system which habitually takes of the Earth and gives nothing back.
What can a tree teach us about self-worth? How it grows only so big as its mothersoil can provide for, how it draws nutrients from her, but then expresses itself in branches and leaves. How it then uses its photosynthetic technology to turn sunlight into sugar, which it feeds itself with. How it kindly emits oxygen for the rest of us, purifies the air. How it offers itself as shelter for other creatures, how it shades, how it sometimes lives to be ancient or not, but always offers its body back to the soil which grew it. How it becomes a nurse log upon which a whole new ecosystem will grow.
Our alienation stems from the negligence of reciprocity. It is the spiritual cul-de-sac we have built ourselves into. It is the worst kind of loneliness to live as a turncoat on the soil of your origin.
Only worse than that, is to not have your gifts received.
During the rebellion of teenagehood, many individual spirits are broken irreparably. Our gifts are systematically disciplined out of us until we we accede to building sandcastles of security instead, relinquishing our personal, intraservicable genius, for a lifetime of felt alienation.
Amazingly, some of us have retained passion. Some of us continue to be disciples of the things we love. We drag our addicted, programmed asses out of deeply-worn ruts. We walk against the grain and the odds, turn away from apathy and accumulation, and stand for something.
You may stand to write a poem, sing a song, sculpt or illuminate. You may dance. You may plant an urban garden, caretake someone in need, endure long learning which qualifies you to help others. Maybe you undergo, least acclaimed of all, your own healing. You open those unexplored regions of the self, vicariously opening the unknowing of the earth itself.
It may not look like much while you’re doing it. You may feel crazy. You may experience terrifying loneliness which can not even be lessened by description. But you are doing your duty by giving your gifts to the world. And for that, I thank you.