Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Club Monk: I'm here for the live silence

This weekend the Self Knowledge Symposium will be going as a group to see Into Great Silence, a documentary of Carthusian monks. I would say, "a documentary about Carthusian monks," except that this is not a film about anything -- the objective knowledge is not the point. Instead the movie invites the viewer to directly experience the stillness of the cloistered. This is, as one reviewer put it, "film as meditation," so come come prepared for a meditative experience.

Popular spiritual publications like Yoga Journal or BeliefNet.com pump out a cliched headline, as regularly as women's magazines put out diet tips: "Slow Down". A truism among spiritual-minded maintains that our modern lifestyle is too fast, too frenzied, too distracted to allow for a deep, contemplative state of mind to emerge and have any staying power. And yet . . . I'm lookin' around, and I don't see very many people slowing down, or even really trying that hard to slow down. Even me. Why is that?

Being busy is an ego trip. Everyone I know, even the slackest of the slackers, insists that, "Man, am I busy. I'm just slammed right now." It's a way of demonstrating one's importance. "I've got a lot going on right now." Having a multitude of roles and activities competing for one's attention makes life seem full . . . the temporal equivalent of materialism. We might complain that we don't like being so busy, but we continue to set ourselves up for it . . . perhaps because we're afraid of what life would be like without it.

Not only do we not dislike our busy pace as much as we claim, we also don't relish simplicity as much as we might claim. With all distractions removed, the mind rebels, desperate to wrap itself around something. Spiritual retreats, rather than being placid floats through paradise, are excruciatingly intense encounters with one's one mind. Augie Turak's greatest success in his writing about Mepkin Abbey is clearly communicating that spiritual life is not merely quietude, but an intensity born of single-minded focus.


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