I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Heidi Beth Sadler’s reflection, “Urban Monk.”
Through the glass windows of the meditation chapel, I watch the Portland fog meander through the evergreens. Except for a sculpture of a crucified Jesus in the arms of his mother, I am completely alone, and I am grateful.
As the Pacific Northwest morning proceeds, the fog gradually dissipates, and I can’t help but notice the power lines zigzagging through the trees. My eyes catch the movement of commuter traffic below, and in the distance, the sign of an adult sex store reminds me I am still in the city. Once again, I feel grateful. In the midst of urban chaos, I have the privilege of seeking this pocket of solitude. For these few moments, I can embrace the contemplative way of the monk.
There’s nothing revolutionary in my saying we are surrounded by noise. Across the world, metro trains, jet streams, and honking cars invade our senses. There are people yelling at cell phones and angry customers berating cashiers. Our eyes are bombarded with flashing signs and traffic lights. This is just a sampling of the noise that greets us the moment we step out our front door.
What about the frenzy in our own homes, the very place where we’re supposed to let down? When I try to take a day off, there’s still the rumble of the dishwasher and the washing machine. There are disasters on television and landscapers outside with power tools. Sometimes the very place I go to escape the turmoil of the world becomes the source.
Unless you live in a rural area, there is noise on every side, and even in physically quiet areas, there is still turmoil inside us. The inner workings of my own mind can be more intrusive than audible voices. As a self-employed musician, I often shun rest and devalue good sleep. I have bills to pay, shows to plan, a novel I’m trying to publish, work frustrations, family illness, artistic disappointment… It feels like the whole world is my responsibility, and when I fail, there’s more mental noise. There are the self-loathing thoughts, the shame and regret of the past. Envy and anger claw at the fabric of my soul, and yet, I deeply long for peace.
In a culture where productivity is king, the art of contemplation takes a back seat. There is no room at the table for the way of the monk. Productivity declares, “There is no time for the simple way.” A life of contemplation, silence, and solitude is for a chosen few. These are the things I tell myself when I look at the to-do list. I can meditate another time. Then again, what if this is exactly when I should seek a quiet place?
When I consider the way of the monk, I see it as anything but passive. A monk is an active seeker of peace. When I hunt for solitude, I am making a decisive action toward beauty. I actively benefit others by choosing to stop and clear out the excess of my inner person. This practice makes me a better artist, a better friend, and a better follower of Christ. This urban solitude, however, can feel daunting. Where do we begin this journey in becoming an urban monk?
I’ve begun to view this practice as an adventure. There are chapels, gardens, parks, and art museums just waiting to be discovered. Your serenity practice could be a weekly visit to a university library, a tea house, or a yoga studio. (I always bring headphones to ward off undesirable disturbances). It might help to start an inventory of quiet places, along with photos of meaningful things you see during your time.
In addition to solitude outings, I try to spend ten minutes a day in stillness, even if it’s just sitting in my parked car listening to nature sounds on my Calm app. Wherever you can go to tune out everything except for the beating of your heart, the breath in your lungs, and the voice of God, your well-being is worth it.
I’m no expert at stillness. I don’t hit a home run every week, but this is a rhythm I’m striving to incorporate into my life. I’m unsure of a lot of things, but I’m convinced that loving my neighbors requires my own willingness to pursue silence amid the skyscrapers and the billboard signs. Intentional silence was the way of people like Fred Rogers and Mother Teresa; I desire that it would be true of me.
My favorite quiet place is the meditation chapel at The Grotto in Northeast Portland, but I’m always on the lookout for new spots where I can sit and simply be. I bless you in discovering your own sacred place. Once you find it, you’ll never want to let it go.
Heidi Beth Sadler is a bohemian violinist in Portland, OR. She and her husband front world folk-rock band Chasing Ebenezer. She also co-hosts The Chasing Ebenezer Show, an art series on Patreon that encourages others to create. She loves fat cats, old episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and her morning coffee. Learn more about Heidi at TheseBohemianDays.com