On Practice and Mastery
I’m going to put on my astrologer hat for a moment and talk about the significance of Saturn. In astrology, the planet Saturn is associated with authority, boundaries, limits, discipline, time, constriction, fear, and fortitude. Before the advent of telescopes, being the furthest planet that can be seen with the naked eye, Saturn was the end of the known universe.
The experience of “too much Saturn” can be melancholy, fear of the unknown, an overwhelming sense of lack, and authoritarianism. “Too little” Saturn can look like having no boundaries, an inability to adhere to time or schedules, inconstancy, and unreliability.
Saturn gets a bad rap, I think, in popular astrology because to grapple with Saturn is to grapple with the necessities of finite reality, which can be painful and extremely humbling. But the thing that is often missing from portrayals of Saturn’s influence is the acknowledgement that submission to discipline is how we develop the capacity to consciously and intentionally manifest the life we want to live.
Saturn is also the gateway to the transpersonal aspects of our lives together as humans, those experiences that transcend the individual and connect us collectively. Until we confront the limits of our own ego and psychology, what we can “see” unaided, we can’t reach beyond ourselves to experience true transcendence.
One of the greatest gifts I ever received from my mother was the experience of spiritual discipline. Long after all my peers in the Quaker Meeting we attended had stopped showing up every Sunday, until I graduated from college and moved out on my own, I was expected to get up and go to Meeting for Worship. It didn’t matter how late I’d been out the night before or what I hoped to be doing on that particular Sunday. “In this house,” she would insist, standing at the end of my bed, “we go to Meeting on Sunday.”
“God doesn’t show up one day because you decided to show up,” she would remonstrate me as I dragged my pouty, teenaged ass out of bed, “God shows up when God wants to show up, and if you’re not there then you might miss it. Your job is just to show up every time, so whenever God shows up you will be there to witness.”
If you’ve ever pursued any activity that has a physical component— dancing, playing a sport or an instrument, meditation, making art or crafts, singing— there is a point when your practice has been so deeply integrated into your physical knowing that you can embody the skill of it without “thought”. You can step into the flow and improvise. You become an authentic, confident, co-creator of reality, in concert with the vastness that exists beyond the confines of your small, personal self.
What you are embodying is your most unadulterated and natural self, what Roshi John Daido Loori, leader of the Zen Mountain Monastery in New York for over 30 years, refers to as what exists “beyond Buddha”. In this wonderful Dharma talk, “Going Beyond Buddha”, Roshi Loori teaches that discipline is the necessary gateway to undo our cultural programming and step into our authentic, embodied, instinctual knowing. He spins a story of witnessing wood ducks embodying their instinctual knowing, but admonishes that we, as humans, have to overcome our minds and egos through practice in order to do what the wood ducks do naturally.
What practice is asking you to do is to step outside of that [programming] and somehow, and it’s a big deal, work your way through those layers of conditioning and get to the ground of being. And when you get there it’s a whole different way of living your life.
— Roshi John Daido Loori
I’m not advocating becoming a Zen Buddhist, though more power to you if that’s your path, but committing to a discipline. It can be spiritual, religious, artistic, physical; as my mother so succinctly put it, “Your job is just to show up.” Then you can move beyond Saturn, beyond what you “know”, and embody your most pure, authentic self.
For me, integrity is one of the central spiritual disciplines of my life. While I practice, building up my strength and instinctual memory, it is often repetitive, sometimes uncomfortable, occasionally even painful. Reaching a degree of mastery when I can embody it in my life, though? When I no longer have to “think” about the commitment or process of being integrous? Then, my friends, reality and I can dance.
Dear Ones, I sent this out later today to see if a time closer to evening would put it in your inboxes when you have more time and inclination to read. Please let me know what you think. Do you prefer the newsletter to appear at noon? Is afternoon better? Morning?
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