in Writing, Spirituality/

WHY I LIKE MONASTERIES

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I’ve been reading “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh recently, feeling even more affected by it than the first reading years ago. The beauty of it, her poignant insight, strikes a profound cord someplace deep. Take, for example, the following passage: 

  • It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love. It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others. How often in a large city, shaking hands with my friends, I have felt the wilderness stretching between us. Both of us were wandering in arid wastes, having lost the springs that nourished us–or having found them dry. Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through solitude.

I can ‘get’ to inner solitude at home, when meditating or contemplating. I can ‘get’ to that inner core through achingly beautiful music, and be replenished. Certainly I can arrive there when in nature, either through the fragrance of trees, the squawks of early morning bird chatter, a flaming sunset, or when the sunlight strikes a lush mountainside at just the perfect angle. But all these environments or conditions require instantaneous connection through the a priori of solitude, even if lasting only an instant. And there’s no better, no more all-pervasive quiet than in a monastery, be it inhabited by nuns or monks, for they are the cultivators of quiet, the revelers in core connections through solitude.

In her book, Lindbergh speaks of the distractions of everyday life that constantly tug one away from that core, particularly woman, although man is not exempt. Distractions are something I am well acquainted with, having them imposed on me from family at an early age, but continuing to traffic them all by myself as an adult. Sadly, it is one of the very mechanisms I use to keep me from myself. Mercifully, I can never do it for extended periods of time without going quite mad. In fact, time spent on distracting myself from the nattering, chattering mind, from the minutia of daily living, from binging on Netflix and other devices I find myself intoxicated by, becomes seriously painful at an ever-shrinking pace. As a result, I reach a stage where reconnecting with the core becomes downright mandatory for spiritual and psychological survival. Hence, my trips to a monastery.

For Lindbergh, it was a trip to the sea. For me, it’s the quietude, the peaceful surroundings of a monastery that includes those who speak the language of solitude in which I am also fluent. Quite simply, it is the energy field in which we vibrate collectively and singularly at the same speed, recognizing one another without having to utter a word. Like Lindbergh, I have no desire to reside there for the rest of my life, nor did she at the beach. For there is a quality after replenishment, after connecting with the core that requires engagement with the world, to share that core with others as is my nature, and was obviously hers as well.

It takes practice to quiet the mind, devotion, dedication to a fierce seeking of that which we really are, not the world-speak person, but the utterly truthful soul. It took years to recognize I was disconnected from that core, and more years still to learn how to seek and cultivate a quieter mind so that I could reach the quietest place of all: the core, some call it the soul, or the real Self, as acted through the thinned down version of persona, personality. Over time, monasteries (among other things) have been an enormous facilitator of replenishment, of reconnecting, a vessel for interior hospitality feeding the interior life.

As it turns out, my last visit to a monastery was to Mt. Calvary, adjacent to the Santa Barbara Mission. As always, it was far too short a stay. However, the connection was made thanks to the miracle of no one else being there; it was just me and the monks, a perfect incubation for solitude, however brief. And while seemingly insufficient to satisfy the entire parched core, the very foundation of what I am, it was enough to replenish, reinvigorate, re-inspire it, enabling not only continuation, but enlivening me as a consequence.

After more than a month back home, I have become thirsty again though not parched. I fantasize about the next visit to Mt. Calvary, or to another place like it. In the meantime, I will practice disconnecting from distractions, however intermittently, until such time as more quenching is possible.

6 replies
  1. Sally McKenney
    Sally McKenney says:

    Having spent nine years of my childhood, age 4 to 13, in a convent, I can’t relate to “soul finding”. It was a chaotic time with over 100 of us trying to figure out where we were in the pecking order. I am suspicious of anything I am told by a religious person. However, maybe it is different in monasteries with men than in convents with women. Very interesting theme to write on and of course, well written. Glad you enjoyed your time there!

    Reply
    • rosaliecush
      rosaliecush says:

      Sally–You weren’t just in a convent, you were in an orphanage essentially. Very different experience. And a different time too. I know it was very difficult. The Monasteries I go to are retreat houses, Benedictine places. No children. They are into solitude and reflection.

      Reply
  2. Charlotte Matheny OCG
    Charlotte Matheny OCG says:

    my favorite place on Earth…I was an associate of the Sisters of the Nativity and then an oblate…the who took in the Brothers at Mt Carmel Monastery when their monastery burned…and later sold St. Mary’s Retreat to them…it was a wonderful time

    Reply
  3. Bob Rubin
    Bob Rubin says:

    How ironic. I was in the midst of composing a memoir on solitude as of yesterday.

    To those who doubt the soul”s existence and its refreshment at a monastery, I ask which supernatural belief do you harbor? Would that be that matter is eternal or that the eternal God created matter?
    My soul yearns for the kind of peace you seek, the opposite of an obsessive “binge.” Failure to slow down is my core problem and without the new pair of legs that is Jesus, I can’t. God bless your monastic journeys and your wonderful writing.

    Reply

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