I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jacqui Avery’s reflection on the living as a monk in the world in the midst of anger:
Despite numerous attempts over the years to create a more dramatic and exciting persona, the two words most commonly used to describe me continue to be ‘nice’ and ‘calm’. Whenever it comes up in conversation with people that I am interested in contemplative prayer, or that I can think of nothing more refreshing than going on a silent retreat, or that I get up very early in the morning to journal, make art or do breathing exercises, no-one is ever surprised: it all fits in perfectly with the image they have of me as this calm, nice, kind, ‘spiritual’ type.
However, despite a life-long – almost pathological – inability to remain angry for more than a couple of seconds at a time, a situation has arisen at work this year that has me raging, furious, on fire with a burning sense of outrage and a violent, irrepressible need to speak out about what I perceive to be wrong. And I’ve been feeling like this not just for a few seconds, but virtually non-stop for five or six weeks.
It’s not appropriate for me to go into the details here, but it’s a frighteningly typical situation where managers (who have power but are not actually ‘working on the ground’) are making terrible decisions that will have far-reaching consequences for many people, most of whom are vulnerable in some way. It is blindingly obvious to ‘the workers’ that these decisions are wrong, but raising objections and making coherent, valid arguments for different ways forward are met with blank indifference, total lack of understanding and a steely determination to keep going in the wrong direction as fast as possible.
It has been an eye-opening experience for me living through this. I have had many nights being totally unable to sleep – either because I am so furious with what’s happening, or because I am rehearsing argument after argument in my mind as I hope to find a way to make others see sense.
Over these few weeks I have found it almost impossible to sit still or to focus on anything other than the ideas whizzing round my mind. I struggle to remember to breathe, or to look beyond this situation to the God who holds all things together and brings order out of chaos. The nearest I get to prayer is a kind of furious, silent, cry of despair which feels like it’s being wrenched out of me in the midst of some kind of spiritual paralysis.
There have been times when all of this has made me feel despairing. I miss being able to sit in silence, to feel still, present and at rest in my body. I still feel a sense of failure as I tell myself I should be able to move beyond my rage and remain focused on God. But increasingly I realise that this is actually a new way of being present, a new way for me to experience awareness and to be open to God. There has been something empowering in realising that I do not need to be sitting in prayer, to be feeling peaceful, or to be consciously aware of God. God is no more or less present as a result of me doing the things I have always presumed to be more holy. I am learning in a deeper way the truth of the sentence, ‘Bidden or not bidden, God is present.’
There are still moments when I am deeply uncomfortable about feeling and expressing rage, but I am also sensing something new and exciting happening in the midst of all the turmoil. It feels like some fresh capacity is being carved out in me, a new ability to hold a deeper range of emotions, to be able to express myself more fully and with greater authority. Although I couldn’t say I’m enjoying the discomfort, I know that as I age I want to become more concerned about injustice, corruption and unfairness, not just get more complacent, comfortable and resigned to things staying the way they are.
The anger remains, but I sense a growing excitement as I realise that just because I am a middle-aged woman, there is no automatic need for slowing and stagnation: growth continues as we age, and change can still be deep, surprising and dramatic.
I’m still only getting a glimpse of it, but I realise that this experience is making me more whole, more complete. The truth is that there are times living as a monk in the world when being nice and calm is not enough: sometimes the only appropriate response is fury, outrage and learning to speak truth to power.
Jacqui Avery is a writer, artist and teacher living in Kent, UK. She writes on her blog about creativity, spirituality and transformation and you would be very welcome to catch up with her there on www.jacquiavery.com