Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.
--George Washington, Letter of Instructions to the Captains of the Virginia Regiments, July 29, 1759
Each year on this day, October 19, the ancient Romans celebrated a festival called the Armilustrium. Soldiers and members of the public paraded about in weapons and armor before cleaning and purifying them for winter storage. The occasion brings to mind the Roman personal virtue of Disciplina, a quality personified as a Goddess and highly celebrated by soldiers.

In Latin the noun Disciplina translates a variety of ways. It can mean education and training; expertise in a specific area of study; self-control and determination; or a well-ordered life. The Goddess Disciplina in turn had three chief virtues to impart to her warriors: Frugalitas (Frugality), Severitas (Sternness), and Fidelis (Faithfulness). Roman soldiers’ Frugality covered not only the careful spending of money, but also conservation of energy and actions--perhaps better captured by the term Efficiency or even Precision. Severitas referred to the soldier’s Focus, Determination, and Decisiveness. Meanwhile, his Devotion to his fellow soldiers and officers as well as the Roman Empire showed the meaning of Fidelis--a virtue still celebrated by the U.S. Marines to this day in their motto Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful).  

Inscriptions in Roman ruins suggest the soliders stationed the furthest away from Rome, such as in North Africa or along the wall of Hadrian in England, had the greatest ardor for Disciplina. Still, the Armilustrium was all about Mars (most of whose rituals occured in--surprise!--the month of March.)  His “leaping priests,” the Salii, danced and did whatever acrobatics one can manage while wearing costume versions of heavy armor. The soldiers and common people alike wore garlands and processed along the Avetine Hill, blowing trumpets, carrying torches and leading along sacrificial animals. Sounds like a stomping good time.

I find it interesting that while Mars presided over the brute arts of war, the soldiers venerated Disciplina--the qualities that honed them into razor-sharp blades of the Empire--as a woman. It suggests that in accomplishing our goals, while it’s good to have a Fire in the belly, we also need Focus, Precision, and Persistence. We have to unite the Yin with the Yang.

How do we gather the qualities of Disciplina to us? In a recent stopover of a decidedly different flavor, Mysticism, I talked about the need for a daily practice of reflection and meditation, however brief. As inadequate as 15 minutes of such Practice might seem, it’s the constant return--like a drop of water etching a grove in the surface of a rock--that brings the Power. We almost have to suspend disbelief to hang in there. As we discussed during the visit to Activation, just as a single drop of water cannot rust the nail, a single day’s practice has no obvious Power.  But lined up over time, each brief segment created the line that makes that penetrating Edge.

So, if you haven’t done so today, get back to that quiet corner and grind that knife, if only for a single stroke.

May we see the gates of Disciplina, and perhaps make a home there.

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