The Way Forward

I wrote just yesterday that I recognized the need to steer clear of social media and engagements that trigger my unpleasant reactions to deeply offensive humans.

But part of my day yesterday was devoted to fruitless efforts to educate the ineducable. I hope I have learned my lesson; that I should stay off the Nextdoor community platform if I wish for even moderate levels of serenity and if I wish to limit my exposure to hard-core stupidity. I tried to inform the misinformed, educate the ignorant, and shame the shameless. All surrounding COVID-19. Needless to say, these people are either Trump voters or conspiracy theorists who believe Trump has joined the “Deep State” and has already handed the keys to the kingdom over to the socialist forces of evil. Arghhhhh!

I will not make that mistake again today. Instead, I will devote at least part of my day to finishing a writing project I long ago promised I would undertake. And I will serve as chauffeur for my wife, ferrying her to and from her physical therapy appointment. And I will take out the trash. And I will blow the leaves and pollen off my deck. And I may power wash the deck…again. And on and on. Tasks to keep my mind off the fact that I live in a pocket not just of opposition politics but, instead, in the midst of a geological outcropping that attracts and feeds (and feeds on) mental illness. How is this making me more serene? It is not. Let me try again.

Social distancing, including keeping my distance from social media, protects me from interacting with people with whom I share only one commonality: we’re of the same species. Social distancing, in all its forms, allows me to pretend I live in a fairyland of nature, where the sounds of songbirds fills my heart with joy and appreciation for all the natural world.

I understand, at least intellectually, the attraction of misanthropy. With enough practice, I believe I could become a reasonably proficient misanthrope. Well, if not a misanthrope, then certainly a recluse, enjoying separation from broader society in near-total seclusion. Despite my lifelong aversion to religion and its tendency toward magical thinking, I have long admired people who dedicate their lives to religious or spiritual contemplation. Monks and nuns, regardless of religious affiliation, have trained themselves (or allowed others to train them) to live in seclusion, taking comfort in privation. But my uninformed perspective suggests their vows of silence, celibacy, poverty, etc. may be simply behavioral cudgels that serve as reinforcements for training.

As I was exploring these thoughts this morning, I did some shallow digging to learn a bit more about monasticism. I learned of four types of monasticism: the skete, cenobitic monasticism, eremetic monasticism, and lavritic monasticism. I do not quite understand why there seems to be no adjectival form for the skete. Oh well, I’ll try to summarize what I unearthed:

  • Skete: a cluster of monastic communities that allows for isolation of monks, but provides shared resources and protection;
  • Cenobitic monasticism: a monastic tradition that stresses community among the monks.
  • Eremetic monasticism: a tradition in which individuals live in virtually total seclusion from others, for the purpose of religious or spiritual reflection.
  • Lavritic monasticism: essentially, as I understand it, eremetic monasticism with access to a church or refectory where hermits can, rarely, gather. A lavra or laura is a type of monastery consisting of a cluster of cells for hermits.

The definitions bend and adapt, depending on which Eastern or Western religious order is involved. There’s another semi-monastic tradition, referenced among all the other groupings, called the intentional community. The IC is a socially cohesive residential community whose members share some important commonality, whether religious, spiritual, political, or what have you. According to Wikipedia, “Intentional communities include collective households, cohousing communities, coliving, ecovillages, monasteries, communes, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, ashrams, and housing cooperatives.”

I think my interests fall somewhere between eremetic and intentional community. That is, I want to be left alone, to my own devices, except when I want or need company or companionship. I think another term for that is self-centered egotism.  That’s only partly tongue-in-cheek. On the one hand, I love the concept of cohousing communities where everyone shares responsibilities and where opportunities for social interaction and friendship abound; on the other, though, cohousing requires an unwaivering commitment that I doubt I would ever be willing to give. And I am used to physical privacy and distance.

The physical attributes of monasticism, including the extent and amount of seclusion, would be important to me. But the intellectual and contemplative elements would be equally as vital; perhaps even more so. I think I live in my head to a much greater extent than I live in the physical world; so, that would have to play into it.

And, of course, there’s my intense passions for food, drink, and laughter. Those would have to factor in prominently to my monastic lifestyle. All of this assumes COVID-19 will eventually become at least manageable. Maybe I’m leaning toward lavritic monasticism, updated to reflect the modern world.

It occurred to me, just now, that my life today is essentially the life I say I crave, albeit with a significant number of  bumps, bruises, and bubbles. I have a lot of solitude, I have access to social interactions, and I can enjoy my interests and most of my passions. Yet there must be something missing; otherwise, I would not spend so much time and mental energy creating the “ideal” in my head. The key to understanding what may be missing and what I might be able to change is to think about it, not with my fingers as I’m doing now, but with my brain. Solitude and dedication to asking the right questions of myself is the way forward, perhaps. A light bulb just brightened above my head. Time to think, without the constraints of fingers on a keyboard.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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