Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Before you start, make sure you read Part 1 (The Inward Disciplines) and Part 2 (The Outward Disciplines), this is really important as it gives you a flavour of why the spiritual disciplines are having something of a reawakening in our age of instant gratification and mass anxiety/depression, as well as a foundation for this piece.
The spiritual disciplines are commonly grouped into three groups of four after the work of Richard J. Foster who wrote many interesting books on the value of discipline as the core of one’s spiritual life.
This piece will focus on the final four Corporate Disciplines of Confession, Worship, Guidance and Celebration.
The Corporate Disciplines
Now I know the word ‘corporate’ probably doesn’t fill your heart with inspiration, but its original usage is not the corporate we are familiar with today.
We are not talking here about ‘the corporation’ of some 70’s science fiction movie or the soulless entities many of us have spent many long years working within.
Corporate disciplines therefore have nothing to do with company goals or brand image; they instead hark back to the root of the word ‘corporate’, which originally pointed to the notion of a group working as one.
Etymologically, this is in turn from the word ‘corporeal’ that alluded to the physical body as distinct from the spirit.
While we are very much talking about spirit here, the notion of thinking about the Corporate Disciplines as relating to ‘one body’ is very helpful.
When we look at the four disciplines, we can see each is about far more than you, the individual, they are instead about you as the body of oneness.
The first of these spiritual disciplines, confession, of course requires someone for you to confess to. Worship requires something to serve. Guidance implies there is a guide beyond you, and celebration is very much a group activity.
Now we have demystified this somewhat, lets move on to exploring the value of each of these spiritual disciplines and how they render you as much part of a broader physical, cultural and spiritual ‘body’ than an atomised individual.
Where can we start with confession? There really is no place I can start apart from the deepest truth I’ve ever experienced as a human being, and that came from confession.
As those familiar with my story will know, I was incredibly resentful towards my father and now-deceased elder brother at one time, so much so it led me into addictions, despair and unrelenting trauma.
Hence, when my life smashed apart and I found myself having to bear all to a man who was trying to help me with some of the disciplines explored in this series, it was one of the most challenging things I’d ever done, especially as it was another man.
I’d trained myself to only fear and compete with other men, so diving headfirst into this deepest level of trust felt very unnatural, but with the state I was in and after watching my brother perish, it felt like do or die.
Not only did confession allow me to get to the very root of my hidden pain, my hidden wrongdoings and my resentment, which changed my life alone, it also built a foundation of trust with good men who were also desperate to improve their lives.
Such a foundation provided an incredible basis on which to rebuild my life on solid principles and values and the glue that kept it together was the confessional experience we’d shared.
Doing this literally gave me faith in men again, it allowed me to explore what a man really is, free of resentful theories of ‘toxic masculinity’ and its counter, hyper-competitive macho-ism, two behaviours based deeply in fear and resentment.
So, what I’m saying here is that confession has two major powers:
It allows us to share our deepest truth with another and set ourselves free from a life of the atomised ‘I’ with all the pain, anger and wrongdoings the critical mind knows all too well
It crafts incredibly strong bonds between men that can help us as men in restoring an authentic, earthy sense of masculinity
Now, one thing I am super passionate about regarding confession, and men’s work in general, is that men share with other men on the same path as them, or with wise elders who do not judge and can show you the way forward because they have walked it.
We hear a lot today about men ‘sharing their feelings’, which is well-meaning, if inadequate advice.
The reality is that many out there cannot cope with what men have to actually say unless its knocking down the classic progressive talking points ‘I can’t express myself’, ‘masculinity is toxic’, ‘I need to learn more about feminism’, et cetera.
My experience with men who are in some sort of pain is that they don’t know why they feel like they do beyond the theories of a psychologist and that at the very bottom is trauma and pain, yes, but also shame and guilt (which is sometimes legitimate and other times not).
Further, it is also common for many men to have very little guidance and instruction from elders, be that in the form of the father, a father figure or the broader culture.
This is why I believe the role we have to play as men is so important today, we must aid one another in bearing our souls, but also be careful where we tread, ensuring we are connecting with something deeper and more authentic.
This is the spiritual discipline of confession.
As with prayer, worship provides one of the biggest obstacles for the modern man.
Maybe you have a passing interest in the spiritual disciplines, but worshipping a deity in the sky is just one step too far.
Further, in our age of scientific materialism, the spirit has no place.
Further still, in this vacuum, the ego of man has placed itself on the throne at the core of existence. What we decree is what is, and the notion of a power greater than us is near heresy.
Perhaps also, one could argue that the West in itself has sacrificed the transcendental immediate experience of God for material progress, with the ‘protestant ethic’ forming the basis of the lived spiritual experience rather than a present reality of God in the here and now.
This would also account for the huge popularity of Eastern traditions and transcendental teachers who haven’t sacrificed the transcendental in this manner.
Yoga and Eastern meditation classes are extremely popular in the West today, especially in urban conurbations where traditional Christian religious institutions and practices are seen at best as out-dated, and at worst as irrelevant and even bigoted.
Similarly, awakened spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle garner huge audiences, with over 1 million YouTube subscribers and a net worth well in the tens of millions of dollars, with a spiritual practice centered purely on the unadulterated experience of what is in the now moment before intellectual interpretation.
Ironically, this has been a path for many to understand the ‘God’ of the West in a new light.
Quoting heavily from the Bible, Tolle often presents scripture as symbolically articulating the stillness of consciousness behind the mind, and seems to focus less on the judgemental side of the Christian teaching and all on the transcendental experience as mediated by Jesus.
Listening to Tolle is therefore like listening to a Zen Buddhist who’s also a Christian.
One could also look to the counter-point of Tolle, the transcendental teacher who shows us the path beyond the intellect, and see how the rise of someone like Jordan Peterson has reawakened the value of the ‘judgemental’ side of Christianity, which has been highly popular with young men.
This interesting dichotomy led me to compare and contrast the two teachers in a recent piece that has been one of the most popular on my site, perhaps because it taps into the subconscious spiritual reality behind our relentlessly materialistic culture.
However, in the interest of this piece it is of specific note that both Tolle and Peterson have done us a great service in wrestling the notion of God free of the narrow connotations we as a culture entrapped it in.
Trying to define God is a pretty silly thing to do when you consider it is the infinite, limitless source of all, which in its purest essence is beyond essence, yet simultaneously underpins all form.
Where Tolle generally steers clear of using the term ‘God’ for fear of the innate biases, fears and anger it raises in people, Peterson is more eager to present God as transcendental reality itself, in that God is the in-built law of life that we must acclimatise ourselves towards, not the caricature of a man on the cloud.
Both of these presentations open up a new way to worship for modern men.
Tolle’s approach can lead us to a more ‘mystical’ worship, in which simply sitting in non-conceptual peace is worship, as in this state we realise our source power is not from the ego, but from the very source of life within us.
To quote Tolle: “Jesus said, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ I think if he lived nowadays, instead of ‘kingdom,’ he would have said, ‘dimension.’ And ‘heaven’ refers to a sense of vastness or spaciousness
Hence, to worship is to be at one with inner spaciousness – that is consciousness before thought.
Peterson meanwhile offers us a more traditional form of worship, yet this appeals particularly to men in the modern meaningless West because it demands sacrifice and the notion of a mission.
Peterson has often remarked on the psychological significance of Biblical stories – that was the name of his video series after all – and often looked to the Orthodox Tradition which seeks to inspire its followers to model their behaviour and life on Christ.
The core of this is in the notion of sacrifice, something Peterson sees as fundamental to individual growth, the public good and spiritual advancement.
As Peterson has stated: “The more you sacrifice, the more potential you gain.”
Now, while I appreciate I haven’t looked at worship in a traditional sense in this piece and there is a rich tradition therein, I believe that this tradition is for the more ‘spiritually mature’ among us.
The reason I’ve approached it in this manner with contemporary teachers is because many modern men (myself included) are still piecing together the broken fragments of our collective conscious reality and thereby familiarising ourselves with the spiritual disciplines.
Further, we must have our own path that allows us to make sense of the ancient before we can move onto a true and honest sense of worship that isn’t based upon religious structures of old we don’t understand nor see as relevant.
In essence, we must seek to worship that which we can feel and experience first, before the cultural constructs of worship can be either accepted or jettisoned.
One thing I hear most often at self-help seminars or business development groups is the importance of a mentor, yet one thing such groups focus very little on is how you actually get that mentor.
Of course, the truth is that the mentors are there but they cost money. Usually, a lot of money.
As I’ve often been eager to point out the Internet, despite its many faults, gives us access to a plethora of masters in endless fields, meaning we can secure some of the finest teachings around if we’re willing to look and do a bit of ‘digital gardening’.
However, even this doesn’t afford us the power that true guidance can provide as we cannot interact in real-time.
What guidance is about in the spiritual disciplines is a master/student dynamic, one in which the ‘elder’, more experienced spiritual seeker can guide the less experienced through the potential pitfalls.
This follows on nicely from the notion of worship just explored, as I outlined two key teachers in Jordan Peterson and Eckhart Tolle who act as guides, yet don’t really offer us the interaction we need.
This becomes extremely important when we face a crisis or are attempting to create space between our consciousness and the ego, which can often be a treacherous journey, with the mind flinging all manner of brutal emotions and savage paranoia your way.
This harsh reality flies in the face of the mediated image of a meditating monk on a journey of easy peace.
The reality is that we must face the darkness, the truth inside, before we can be free. As the spiritual teacher Adyashanti once put it:
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to with becoming better or happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the façade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
Henceforth, such a journey requires a wise master to pull you back on track when you begin to wade into the deep undergrowth of the mind, find the fool’s gold of false peace, or begin to break apart and need a wise word to let yourself be taken by sheer conscious power rather than recoiling in fear.
This is why guidance is a core element of the spiritual disciplines and unlike self-help gurus, you shouldn’t ever be charged for this, but the teacher will appear when you are ready to listen.
The celebration is the point where faith meets love in the prism of the spiritual disciplines.
Perhaps to be more accurate, it is the point where the individual becomes one with those around him.
Having done many men’s groups and events, one thing that struck me as most interesting during one particular event was something I’d never witnessed before, and that was pure ecstatic dancing.
Now, I’m no dancer, yet as the purpose of the retreat was to push yourself, I was willing to give anything a go and this space for celebratory dance came immediately after some very full of and aggressive men’s work which involved wrestling and screaming at one another.
I’ve taken ecstasy and MDMA before, but the sense of release I had here was different, it wasn’t as ‘ecstatic’ but it was much more real and earthy and it formed very strong bonds with the man I wrestled with and the men whose faces I screamed in and screamed in mine.
This may be an extreme example, but it gets to the heart of what celebration is.
In our contemporary age of drink, drugs and partying, celebration is more a form of intoxicated escapism from work, stress and pain, yet at its core, in the form of the spiritual disciplines, celebration isn’t escapism, it is about overcoming fear and falling into a realisation of love.
You can’t blame people for taking drugs (and I certainly don’t) if they have no experience of divine love or no idea of how to form a path towards it.
In my experience with addictions, trauma and despair, my core pain came from exactly this place – I genuinely believed anything to do with the spiritual dimension was mumbo jumbo for dumb, needy people and I certainly didn’t have any notion of love beyond ‘I love women and want to bang them’, even though that is not love at all in essence.
This is why I believe the spiritual disciplines are taking on a second life, many men just like me are now finding that true long-lasting meaning, power, and love cannot be found in drugs, drink and sex.
The truth is that finding peace is hard. It takes great sacrifice and adherence to the spiritual disciplines, but at the end of it is a shot at celebration, true celebration.
In this form of celebration, the pain, paranoia and trauma of the individual is sacrificed for the freedom of the undefined spirit, at one with what is, in harmony with, what I now hope you can read without judgment, God.