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A Monk in the World

One of the ways we become intimate with the fire in our lives is to explore our passions, our deepest desires, the commitments which make our hearts burn with love.  The mystics across traditions describe God as the spark or flame dwelling in each of our hearts, the source of infinite compassion.  When we live from the heart – which is where Ignatius of Loyola said that God plants our deepest desires – we become a temple of fire and reveal the splendor of God to the world.

I feel deeply blessed to be intimate with my own deepest desires, with the passions which make my heart burn brightly and make me feel alive.  One of the things that sets me on fire is being a monk in the world – living a life that is spacious and reflective and in resistance to the busyness of our times.  A life in which presence to natural rhythms, relationships, and creative expression form the heart of my commitments.

I have to admit, I detest the word busy.  For me “busy” means mindless multitasking and even when life is especially full for me, I try to be as mindful as possible and do only one thing at a time.  I rebel over the idea that busyness should be a mark of pride, a way of saying how important we are.  Recently I saw a billboard for Hotmail – their new tagline is “tools for the new busy.”  It went on to say they are “redefining busy” knowing that having a “full calendar means having a full life” and apparently they are going to help you to do it all.  Being a monk in the world means that a full life is not defined by the number of commitments, meetings, and appointments.  Fullness is a capacity for presence to the grace which saturates each moment.  I suppose that doesn’t sell as well on billboards.

I have been contemplating busyness and full calendars a lot lately because my own life has been overly full.  I have shared here before that I am in the midst of a transition which demands that I work far more hours than I would normally and has been stretching my sense of myself as a contemplative, living intentionally in resistance to the busyness of the world.  Here is some of what I have been discovering:

  • One of the principles sustaining me through this time is being as mindful as possible.  Even when I have a list of things to get done longer than my time actually allows – which is a prompt for my sense of overwhelm to rise – I remember to embrace one thing at a time.  Rather than multitasking which only serves to amp up my anxiety,  I try to remember to breathe deeply and focus on one task at a time and allow it to become a window into sacred presence in this moment.
  • In the midst of challenges, I am staying open as much as possible to my inner experience.  When self-doubt arises or overwhelm or sadness, I make space within me to welcome the feelings.  I regard this as a spiritual practice of becoming more intimate with my own stuff.  It is not an easy practice or one that feels good, but I am discovering more deeply who I am by listening to the whole spectrum of what my experience brings.
  • In these days of fullness and too many things to get done, I have experienced a solidarity with those whose lives are necessarily full of commitments like work, school, childcare, care of aging parents, and more.  It has immersed me again in the real struggles and challenges modern life brings us.  I have grown in my compassion for those who feel so stretched by the reality of their lives.  And I have grown in my commitment to offer support to others for committing to less busyness and more contemplative fullness.
  • I am discovering the edges of my capabilities both physical and emotional.  I don’t want to live in this space for too long, but I am also discovering strength I didn’t realize I had.  I know my capacities and also what I need for rejuvenation and renewal.  In fact, if I can just remember to go for a walk or take a nap I find I am restored in ways I didn’t think were possible when I allow myself moments of spaciousness.
  • As I look ahead past this time of transition, I am being even more vigilant about keeping extended time for contemplative rhythms in my life.   As I glance at my summer and fall commitments my body loosens, my soul sighs deeply.

My passion is witnessing to a different way of being, one where “no” is as important a word as “yes,” a life where protecting my solitude is as cherished as time with friends, and silence is essential nourishment.  My life right now has become too full and yet even in this space I am learning about how I am being called.  I am being invited deeper into my own heart to encounter the fire  of my experience.

Being a monk in the world means living from the heart – not analyzing life but discovering its meaning and grace.  It is a process, not a destination.  It is a journey of continual discovery.  Even in this season of fullness I am being invited to learn more about what the contemplative life means and how much I am committed to it.

Can you take a few moments to breathe deeply this day and bring yourself present to the fire burning at the heart of the world?

What are the deeper desires calling to your own heart today?  How is the element of fire inviting you to live your passions?

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you. Once again I am enriched by the wisdom of others. It is so important to take time out & listen, to just take a few deep breaths & look at the sky, even if it’s only for a few minutes. It can certainly put the fire back into my soul.

  2. A saying from Pendle Hill Quaker Center: you need to say no so that your YES may be deeper.

    I too am in a time of transition, have lost my job, trying to prepare to look for another. Trying to maintain the hard-won activities that nurture my spirit and soul. Trying to figure out what amount of time in appropriate for each part of my life. Trying is not doing.

    Thank you for your posts. They have been very meaningful to me.

  3. I have more and more time to be. I like to give space to the unforeseen, to set the Spirit free, She who cannot be reigned in.
    I like your concept of being ‘a monk in the world.’ Monk I do not feel, but a sort of lay nun, yes. Maybe a new terminology will have to be invented for laywomen and men who are called to live in the world but differently — ‘in the world, but not of the world,’ … ?
    At any rate, you make a wise and beautiful guide.
    Thank you.

  4. The tyranny of the clock and busy schedules were huge issues to me for years. One thing I heard once that helped me change is that the 2 Chinese characters that make up the word busy are “heart killing.” What else needs to be said?

  5. Oh, I have been struggling with this so much lately. Returning to dance and now teaching dance — it’s completely changed my life but I am still holding onto some of my old ways of being, of defining myself, and that is keeping me that awful sort of Busy.

    I am beginning to make room, little by little (and was already planning on writing about this for Friday! ha!), but it takes a lot of rethinking. Oh — this just came to mind — measure twice, cut once. But I think I am getting stuck in measuring over and over, when I know perfectly well where the cuts need to be.