Ten Spiritual Principles of Discipline

Wisdom I Learned from My Teacher, Avatara Adi Da


1. Discipline is the obligation of relationship. 

This is discipline at its core.

Discipline arises out of relationship, relationship is always the context for discipline. Adults who attend to their own growth in relational force have wisdom to pass on to even toddlers. A pedagogical example: if a child is banging a spoon too loudly too long at the dinner table, the requirement for quieter behavior when eating is an obligation capable of being learned by every child old enough to sit there and bang. Orientation to requirements is most important; otherwise, children do not sufficiently adapt to the law of relatedness and eventually curse the world with endless stimulation and lawless self-fascination.

We must balance our nurturing force with obligations, disciplines, and challenges. This balance is well illustrated by an 88-year old Tennessee farmer who was asked to complete the thought: "I have learned . . ." He pondered a moment and declared, "If you give a pig and a boy everything they want, you get a good pig and a bad boy."

The traditional view of discipline as fierce father force is narrow, and by its narrowness, is almost wrong. Instead, there must be a play of forces, a dynamism of both energies. For discipline is not demand devoid of nurture, both forces must be strong. Certainly, we cannot coddle our children into maturity -- nor can we force them. In service to our children, we persistently balance both the spirit of challenge and of nurture, sometimes emphasizing one side or the other, according to our imperfect art.

We take heart that this spirited approach need not be perfected to further growth. Only trying to be attentive is required; our art will grow if we try. Therefore, our imperfections and mistakes are washed from the psychology of our children and from ourselves by this spirited effort. We grow as we accept our mistakes as opportunities of learning. We further increase compassion for our imperfect selves as we recognize the greatness of the life that grows. Recognizing the greatness of life, we forgive our imperfect selves and become spirited again.

As we grow in our capacity for relational life, we come to learn that demand is not enforced by threats -- children should never be threatened, made to feel bad, or unhappy. Instead, they are to be invited into the pleasure of human community upon certain harmonious bases. This principle is a universal social structure: submission to the requirements of the group is the essence of social necessity. This requirement for submission is seen in both nurturing acculturation and in the demand for right participation. The harmonic Law thus supports social and individual forms of relationship -- community and communion. Relationship is the means of community and is epitomized in love and communion. If we want our children to grow up sane and our society to prosper, we must personally take up the disciplined labor of continually growing in relational force.

Let us also note: relationship is not only enacted, but it is also calm and rested in feeling. We deepen our children's capacity for relationship when we also take the time for quiet time, silently and softly expressing the love we have for one another. We should not merely entertain our children constantly, nor let them adapt to a life of mere stimulation. Home life is first, simple play is second, glowing screens last. Their capacity for focused attention decreases proportionally to the increases in being entertained. While occasional entertainment may even be healthy, and while exhausted parents may need an electronic baby-sitter every now and then, we should direct (by insisting) that avenues other than entertainment be engaged. While we should teach our children to be energetic and even celebratory, we must also provide avenues for quiet, basic solitude or simple play, and restfulness in age-appropriate and artful ways. Our guidance will range from ecstatic to silly, from walks to building blocks, from soft talk to letting silence be.

A basic trust is broadened by this restfulness and provides a depth for the artful and effective execution of discipline. In this rest and trust, we see clearly how discipline is not control nor psychology nor punishment; it is simply the loving obligation of relatedness. Those who take the license for continued improper and unrelational behavior must be made to see the effects of their disharmonious and separative behavior: they must see that you are not removing them from the social setting, they are. Thus exclusion is often the most appropriate discipline for egregious or continued misbehavior, and should always be tied to an invitation to return to the relational setting when they decide to abide by the common agreements. "Leave this room and stay out until you can conform to the agreements we have here. I want you back in here with us, so figure out how to change your behavior and then come back."

The power and effectiveness of wedding temporary exclusion to permanent inclusion leads us to the next point.