In a room with one soul.

There is a hollowness in my metaphysical gut. It’s not depression. Depression feels like being a small, guttering flame trapped between a thickening wall of glass and an abyss. It’s not fear. Fear feels like little rat-teeth tearing at your sanity when the clock on the nightstand is stuck at three, always three.  It’s not anticipation. Anticipation feels like seeing the man you love strolling down a long, brick walkway and you are too far off for even your loudest shout to get his attention. This hollowness is none of the things I recognize. It might have something in common with sadness. When I try to put it in words, to explain to those who know me why I’m not smiling as often, I simply say I feel sad all of the time – but that’s not accurate. Words are never accurate.

I have been obsessed with the lives of the monastic religious. There was a rather silly week where I was upset that I can’t be a Jesuit. I don’t meet the four basic requirements: I’m not Catholic, I’m not male, I’m not debt-free (the mortgage counts) and, even if I were to suddenly fit the first three requirements, I’m almost too old to be admitted. Oh, and I’m married. Marriage is kind of a deal-breaker for monastic life. I’m smiling as I write this – hollowness be damned. I love my husband. He’s been a constant friend and ally for nigh near half of my time on this (sad, sad) Earth. He is my magnetic North.

Okay.

So I can’t be a Jesuit and I can’t be a Trappist Monk and I can’t be a Nun. It seems I’m stuck out here in the secular world. Maybe I can apply some of the rules for monastic living to my life as it is, and find something to replace this hollowness? It was Thomas Merton who got me into this whole examination of contemplative Christianity, so I turned to YouTube and Google (where else?) to help me learn more about the life of a Trappist monk. There are three basic sections of Benedictine Rule, or the principles that shape monastic life. The first is Stability, which is a life-long dedication to a community and to relationships. The second is Obedience, which is to follow the instructions of the Abbot and God’s word. The third is Conversion, which is the willingness to be open to God as he works through you and the people around you. There is much more to the monastic Rule, but these three principles give me a place to start to make my life more meaningful.  Maybe if I can imbue meaning and spirituality into the structure of my secular life, I will find that I am not so far from who I am meant to be. I really don’t know, but that’s my hope.

As is often the case with spiritual seeking, there has been a confluence of input lighting my path. I am reading Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco and amongst the humor and the intuitive leaps of the narrator & company, there is a strong thread of the idea of an all-connecting spirituality. Oh, and Jesuits just entered the plot, stage right (they’re EVERYWHERE, once you notice them!). One Friday evening, mind all mush from a week of intense concentration at the day job, I decided to let Netflix entertain me. I picked an indie film named Something, Anything. As is the case for most Netflix descriptions, it was scant and only faintly evocative of the actual story: A woman suffers a loss, and re-evaluates her life. That could be … anything. Or something? I decided to give it a chance, and the huge, intense (and intensely sad) eyes of the lead actress convinced me to finish the film. There is an awful, heart-wrenching scene near the beginning of the movie (the loss) and many quiet, almost shy scenes of contemplation. And, wouldn’t you know it, she ends up visiting Gethsemani Abbey, Merton’s Trappist monastery. Something, Anything isn’t a movie for the general public; there’s no action, there’s no sex; there’s very little dialog. It turns out to have been the perfect movie for me, at the perfect time. Even the exercises in my craft class have these gorgeous lines that speak to me on a spiritual level. In Ode to the Lost Luggage Warehouse at the Rome Airport, Barbara Hamby writes, “…you take a careful waltz through the months, and find nothing in the midst of so much.” In Driving the Heart, Jason Brown writes, “Hearts travel at night.” And those lines connect like the information narrator & company of Foucault’s Pendulum feed into Abulafia (their “super” computer), and I start to sense a vast network of meaning and hope thrumming around me, but nearly hidden by the rush and furious sound of our modern, status-and-thing-focused culture. It’s enough to make me think that maybe, in my own quiet way, I can find what I need.

 

As ever,

-aniko

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9 thoughts on “In a room with one soul.

  1. This is a hard time to exist. We have so much input and we are told so many things by so many people it is easy to get stuck in the wrong groove. I feel like I know how you feel–but the hard part is that times like this are something we go through kind of on our own. Not that other people aren’t there to help and care–but the hard work is US.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Penelope!

      Yes, there is so much noise and distraction and a very strong cultural push to pay attention to the “looks” of something rather than the meaning or value of something. I think this is a personal, individual journey. I know no one can come with me, but I hope that by sharing this, others won’t feel alone as they embark on a similar journey. I’m just glad to be getting out of the wrong groove, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable as I seek a new way to be!

      -aniko

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  2. I can’t do better than to echo Penelope’s words, Aniko: certain battles are ours alone. However, other people will be there to help and encourage you if you let them. Perhaps it’s a problem with modern life? We live in a state of sensory overload; stripping things down to their most simple state is difficult.

    Foucault’s Pendulum is wonderful, though, isn’t it?

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    • Oh, yes, Foucault’s Pendulum is wonderful! I like it that there are books and friends in the world. Even though this journey is personal to me, and can’t be shared directly, it is good to know that books and friends are there to keep me company.

      Getting away from the constant demands on my attention (mostly to get to my wallet) has been intellectually and philosophically invigorating. I can hear myself think. I can hear the quiet voice that tells me what is right for me to do – even if it seems odd to do it in a culture that values busy-ness over contemplation.

      -aniko

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  3. Pingback: Gimme That (Old?) Time Religion - Shaggin the Muse

  4. Aniko, thank you for having the courage to write something so raw and vulnerable. I’m sorry that you’ve been feeling bereft and like something vital has been missing.

    Have you ever looked up and gazed at a night sky full of stars and felt humbled by just how vast and awesome the entire universe is? Did it ever make you so incredibly aware of how truly small you were in the grand scheme of things, and wonder what you could possibly do that was different or impactful in any way?

    Then, in that exact same moment of realization, did you recognize the fact that out of all of that space and enormity, out of all of those stars…there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that was exactly as you were- right then, in that moment?

    As an agnostic, I’ve never been tempted to pursue religion as a way of filling the void I think we all carry around inside of us. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why people would choose to do so, and find comfort that way.

    I do think (and I know we’ve talked about this) that the universe is made of energy and that if you’re receptive and aware, you’ll find that what you need will come along exactly when you need it. I hope that’s the case for you.

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    • I was an atheist for most of my life. I spent about a decade studying Buddhist philosophy, meditating, and sometimes attained moments like the one you describe, where you look up at the sky and realize that you are a unique entity, but not separate from the fullness of life. I liked the ethical basis of Buddhist precepts, and also that there was no concept of “God.” It’s only in the last year that I’ve started reading about Christian contemplation. I still wouldn’t call myself religious – I don’t belong to a church or identify with a particular denomination. However, I have come to a faith and a belief in the existence of a God. It is literally irrational (because it is beyond reason, outside of it), and there are plenty of times I wonder if what I’m experiencing as an “awakening” is really just a mild psychosis. Still, the core of me that is timeless senses a fullness and a truth that is real. I’m no Joan of Arc, but … I believe.

      Thank you for your thoughtful response, Satin. You write with honesty and compassion. I am grateful.

      As ever,

      -aniko

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