The inner monastery
I've been reading Monica Furlong's biography on the writer and famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. Her story reveals an intensely vibrant man with a burning passion for the spiritual search, who also lived with a painful, black crippling despair that seems always to be nipping at his heels. I don't think that's an accident. Who but the suffering of us would want to do the undoing work necessary to enlighten our minds?
This sophisticated, artistic, intellectually-gifted man, chose in his early 20's to join the most extreme ascetic Catholic tradition as a way to give his life meaning and stability in devotion to God. Although he was a prolific and talented writer throughout his life, he struggled with this aspect of himself and continually debated whether keeping this part of "Thomas" was an unhelpful indulgence or not. I find a bit of solace in the fact that a part of him remained suspicious about his own impulses to express, even after so much experience and success.
The mirror of Merton reflects what I've been looking for, I realize: Some stability in form and function to serve as a forcing function and backdrop for seeking the Truth, like a rock foundation high up on a barren, remote mountainside. I've been wanting some vocation, location, relation that will allow me, require me, to do the only thing worth doing. But his story reminds me, too, that a) healing is not for sissies, and b) where ever you go, there you are.
I've taken this theme into my nighttime dreams, where I've been dealing with monasteries lately. In one notable dream, my whole head of hair actually fell out, symbolically, in my hands as I brushed it from my face, so that I suddenly had a very monkish appearance. When I asked why this was happening, I was told in a pun, "Your world is making you pull your hair out."
Yes, my world and the story of "Laura" within it, has made me very frustrated over the years, enough to make me "pull my hair out" or worse. Eckhart Tolle reminded me via my iPod the other day that "every story fails eventually." I have empirically tested this one for several decades and with many stories, and I can say without doubt he's right on the money. I found myself letting out a nice, big sigh of relief, of letting go even more deeply, as I heard him say it.
The world we seem to live in is based on variations of a "2 + 2 = 5" equation. That is why the dream reality we're believing in never adds up. It's liberating, albeit vast and scary, to accept this deeper and deeper. I feel like shouting from a mountain top, "Put away your calculators and slide rules and fancy math, folks! Stop trying to make it work! Stop trying to manifest more abundance, save your drug addicted son, or create Peace in the Middle East! And for goodness sakes, stop beating yourself up for failing at these things. The good news is -- it's a hopeless case!"
It is unlikely that I will ever be popular.
It's also unlikely that I'll become a Trappist or any other kind of nun as the world defines them. (If you knew my life, you'd know the understatement that this expresses.) If the dream world we think is reality must fail us, we naturally gravitate to the monastery for safety, but let's not confuse the issue by thinking we need to find it in the world that doesn't add up. Merton believed we could redeem the world if we were close enough to God, but I don't.
2 + 2=5 will never be true, no matter if it gets printed as true in a thousand math books. And monasteries and other worldly structures and organizations and teachers will keep failing us as stories. That's their purpose as set up by the ego.
On the other hand, we could also use them to return us to the inner world. In fact, that is their only True Purpose.
More and more, I feel my Path is making me into a facsimile of a monk without the vestiments. The need, craving, to withdraw from the ways I identify myself within the story grows stronger. One of my "symptoms" I'm not proud of in this phase is my sudden distaste and judgment (I admit) for what I call all the "Hay House gurus" out there, commercializing what can never be put in a box, with words that feel mostly empty. As egos, we are constantly saying, "look at me! I am important! I exist!" And I'm very aware that the only reason I am picking on these brothers in my mind is that they are showing me my addiction to my own made up self. I can count a thousand ways I try to be important every day, including, sometimes/often, this blog.
My mind, then, is my monastery. The crooked path leading up to it is simply the remembering of what I truly Want. More and more, I retreat there in the stoney, blessed silence and let the dark painful structures I have interposed between me and my Self be revealed. In this chapel, I am never alone. The Holy Spirit awaits me there, as a gentle Light to guide all the looking we'll be doing together. Though formless, I still feel His quirky little smile, which seems to say, "It's about time. You've finally decided to quit doing things your way and follow Me." I don't feel chastised by the rebuke, but I do feel a bit silly.
After letting me bask a bit, the Holy Spirit inevitably comes around to saying, "Ok, Let's look at all this 'serious business' that seems to drive you to anger or painful despair, shall we?" I am never mocked, but I am never taken seriously either. Day to day, I find myself making a quick escape to the monastery to roll up my sleeves and get to work at the Looking business when I think I've been judged, criticized, dismissed, or otherwise attacked in some way. It happens less often, but the numbing sting can still be great. I feel like I'm beginning to own, cherish, my debt deeply for the first time...how much do I owe my brothers in great gratitude for all they reflect to me that wishes to stay hidden? Everything.
As hate gets transmuted into unabashed gratitude, the ego doesn't know what to do, and I can feel a shaky weirdness as walls, so familiar that I assumed they were my safety, begin to crumble. Ego would much rather be punished, even murdered, so it can exist as "real" than be dismissed so easily with a gentle smile that says, "yeah? sin, guilt, fear, pain, suffering, murder, hate, revenge, jealousy, bodies, specialness, death? Is that all you are worried about? Well, big deal. Have some tea."
Big deal, indeed. There I am again...feeling a bit silly. Feeling silly seems to be a major theme lately.
And then I'm back to sipping at my cup.