Spontaneous has its origins in the Latin. It means, essentially, of one’s own free will. Of course, in today’s vocabulary, the word has come to mean free to do whatever, wherever, by whatever means necessary. Be spontaneous—drop everything and go to Europe. Be spontaneous and get a new relationship. Be spontaneous and be free from constraints. Give in to your natural impulses and feelings.
However, if we take the word back to its beginnings—of one’s free will, it implies a certain measure of discipline, control, and planning (a word that is now used as an antonym to spontaneous). I see this principle in life all over the place.
In teaching children to write, I start off with a playful love of language, and gradually introduce the rules of grammar and the mechanics of punctuation. Once the student has the form, the structure, the discipline of language, then they can branch out and spontaneously write whatever they want.
I see it in my sons. All three of them can write songs on the piano, the violin, or the guitar. But they all started out learning to read music and learning the fundamental scales, the finger positioning, the proper way to hold and play their instruments. Now they jam.
I see it in the fact that I learned very formal prayers when I was a child, and now my prayer life has branched off into many different, spontaneous directions. I can even spontaneously use the old formal prayers, if I so choose.
The key is in the freedom. And in my experience, freedom comes as a result of discipline.
Erratic on the other hand means having no definite direction, no focus, or set course. In plant terminology it refers to a kind of lichen that is not fastened to anything. It implies strange behaviors, a certain unsteadiness.
It has old roots in both French and Latin. It originally meant wandering or deviating from a plan—like making a mistake, for example.
I need to be sure not to confuse spontaneous and erratic. I also have to be careful to remember the original definition of spontaneous.
I can be spontaneously erratic and not get anywhere, except maybe a mental hospital or jail. Living my life completely based on my feelings will get me these same results.
I can be spontaneously disciplined and have anything I want. The road may twist and dip and turn and rise, but it is still a road. It still leads somewhere. Having a vision for my life, a purpose, a mission, helps me stay disciplined. And the more I learn to be discipline, the more freedom I experience and can put to common, everyday practice.
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog