Something I’ve been thinking about for a while now is discipline. We humans are funny beings. We value discipline and yet…not really. We need the structure but we, especially North Americans, value our “freedom.” We have funny ideas about freedom, too. Freedom isn’t do everything you want, and discipline is not don’t do everything you want. True freedom and true discipline are free from excuses. Both are situational, that is, each has its own breadth of structure applied to the situation you are in. For example, school rooms have a certain discipline but the recess yard has another discipline. They may overlap, or they may be 180 degrees from each other. To have discipline is to be a disciple of something – that is, the discipline is applicable to the governing body, group, committee, or any other social structure. It may not even be social in nature – there are many solitary pursuits that have a discipline; think religions, sports, or even academia. To be free is to be at liberty, as opposed to being restrained or constricted. To be free is to enjoy your individual rights. Perhaps, even the individual right to pursue a personal discipline.
I grew up thinking that discipline was a dirty word. My parents, products of a Depression generation, felt that you provide moral and ethical discipline, hand, belt, or wooden spoon – didn’t matter. And you know what? I turned out okay. I might not have been OK with everything they did but I could see the value of that kind of upbringing, for the most part. I know a lot of people in my generation did not value that discipline and in turn, have made discipline a dirty word for their children. Today, any kind of spanking seems to result in a huge uproar of child abuse. It’s interesting that a Google search of “physical discipline” immediately comes up with the definition “corporal punishment” and images of fists and violence. Discipline is none of those. For humanity’s sake, there has to be a balance.
Where my parents did not have discipline was in the gaining of material things. It was a product of not having much as children; to compensate, they were unrestrained in their material desires. In turn, I have a tendency to succumb to those same desires – will the next “thing” make me feel better? I’ve come to find that spot in my consciousness that seems to feel a need and when I want to go fill the need, I have to ask what it is I really am looking for. Where I have moved beyond upbringing is the understanding of myself and the need to find the world beyond that immediate desire.
To me, this is a personal discipline. I need to invoke my own method, structure of analyzing a situation and put rules and guidelines down for myself to be able become better disciplined in this world. The discipline changes as I change, and as the world changes. In another culture, in another time, my upbringing might have been okay in the world. In this, my world, my desire to be a better person is driving my need to invoke this discipline for myself.
I don’t know that I would have recognized discipline if it weren’t for Freemasonry. Perhaps it would have taken a very long time. Freemasonry allowed me windows into my own psyche and in others experiences which I might not have been privy to without its influence. I remember a new member a very long time ago who seemed to fight the discipline of Freemasonry. She was in her late 30’s and a long time practitioner of many mystery schools and esoteric teachings. She presented herself as self-confident and perhaps a little angry at the world. In her first four or five months of Masonry, she bridled at the need to discipline her body to sit for long periods of time, to keep silent and not provide her opinion at every turn, to quiet her mind and be still. During her reading of a personal essay, before she was to go through another ceremony, she burst into tears while reading. She opened her soul to us. She felt as if all of the previous work she had done, the disciplines she had followed, were not fully there for her. Freemasonry was the first order she belonged to that had provided her the structure she needed for who she was at that time, to begin a new life. She taught me that if we the Lodge had not strove to be disciplined in Freemasonry, she would not have had that experience. How powerful a transformation for all of us because of Masonic discipline.
Every degree, every step, every office in Freemasonry we obligate our selves to follow Masonic discipline. Literally. We vow with our heart and soul to do what needs to be done to be good Masons. Discipline has two sides: the discipline that is invoked by the individual and the group, and the recipient’s acceptance of that discipline. It is a cycle, in Freemasonry, and in this cycle, we reap as we sow.
I shake my head, and find it a little funny, when people tell me that I have high expectations, or that I should “cut some slack” or “have compassion.” I find it funny because I was there. I had excuses. I was that undisciplined fool. I have been the talker in the study hall during a ceremony that I could not attend. I have not learned the lines that I should have. I have shown up with sloppy clothes, dirty aprons, too much jewelry. I have talked in lodge meetings, made faces at people, told people what to do when I should not have, and not done my own job. In each case, someone corrected me. In each case, someone had to care enough to invoke the discipline necessary to correct me, to make me think about what I was doing, to help me become better at knowing myself and my own life. Without that structure, without their strength, I would not be who I am today. I accepted the discipline and they provided the discipline to me. It comes full cycle. I hope that, today, I have been of service to those who provided me with the Masonic structure, and I hope I provide that to the Masons with whom I share Lodge.
I also have the view that it is unfair to ask of my brothers less than I would ask of myself or anyone. Why would I assume that someone can’t be disciplined if they are a Freemason? Why would I assume someone couldn’t do something physical, mental, or emotional if they have taken the same path I have taken? To me, that is demeaning and rude, discriminatory, and frankly, un-Masonic. My brothers are level with me, square with me, and fully capable of following Masonic discipline. My brothers are strong, capable, and striving to be better, just as I am. I want to be the best Freemason I can be. I am sure all Freemasons want that. Don’t be easy on me. Consider me worthy of the discipline and help me be that better person.
Discipline is not punishment. Discipline does not have to be guided with a harsh voice, a sharp tongue, or violence, especially not in Freemasonry. We are human, and sometimes frustrations come through. We are all a work in progress. Invoking discipline in and of itself is not mean, harsh, or cruel – quite the opposite. It says we care enough about our fellow members and the institution of Freemasonry to speak up and not be silent. Are we not to reprehend with mercy? Judge with candor? Discipline guided with brotherly love – where else can we find that?
Discipline is no longer a dirty word in my vocabulary. To me, it means following some guiding principle, some Light to make me a better human being and a better citizen and friend. It has helped me learn the value of my words and commitments, of the virtues of fairness and integrity, and hopefully the knowledge that I have far, far more to learn. I can only hope that my fellow members continue to share discipline with me, in a sort of joyous sacrament that brings us all to better community and Masonic fellowship. Discipline is safety. Discipline is Love. Discipline is success.