“Still Moon, No Mind” oil on canvas painted by Rob Schouten. © Rob Schouten www.robschoutengallery.com
Many of the souls on our planet are in this new “Corona-cloister.” We are in “time-out” these days.
I remember my sister placing my nephew into “time-out” when he was a child. He was asked to sit on a tiny right-sized children’s chair facing the corner of the room. It was a discipline. Being in time-out was seen by this creative, wonderful child as punishment for having done something wrong, such as drawing on the living room wall with indelible markers. He would weep and wail in time-out, at first being sent into “time-out” on his tiny chair in the corner of the room facing the wall. He was embarrassed to be there. He was angry. He was weeping and wailing. But soon, being the kind little boy he was, he would stop crying. He would stop being bored. He would start to hum a small tune and make shadows on the wall with his hands, amused by his own creations. Peaceful.
When released from “time-out” he would wander over to his mum, tug on her dress and apologize for the misdeed that landed him in time-out; that he could “see” better after the time-out disruption. She would kiss his forehead and suggest ice cream; aware, as a good mother is, that what got him into trouble was being bored on a rainy day.
Mother earth, it would seem, has many of us in “time out.” We are in a “Corona-cloister.”
One of the great tragedies would be to miss this opportunity. In some Asian languages, “crisis” and “opportunity” are interchangeable words. There is an opportunity in this planetary “stay-in-place order. This “time-out.” This opportunity is mindfulness.
I remember my years as an Episcopalian monk in a cloistered monastery. My favorite time of day was the hour of meditation in my cell. A monk does not have a “bedroom.” A monk has a cell. The ancient monks went to their “cell” (usually a cave far off from cities and villages) to be alone with God. “Monos” comes from the word “alone.” Monastery. Monk. Monastic. These are all words indicating a man or woman who chooses a life of self-imposed and community-supported “time-out.” And depending on how a monk feels on any particular day or hour or moment, one was either protected by the cloister gate or imprisoned by it. One was either shut down by the vows or enlivened by them.
We all have a mini-monk or mini-nun inside of us. Some buried rather more deeply than others. Being hospitable to our inner “aloneness” is a tremendously valuable tool and leads to emotional sobriety. This “re-boot” of our internal body-brain can clean our systems, the way dreams do when we sleep in our physical, nightly, alone-ness state. When we close our eyes to sleep, we raise the drawbridge of the island we call “me.” And while enclosed by sleep, our body and mind are working on cleansing and sorting. Without that nightly cleansing, we would go mad and die.
But being alone and facing one’s demons, addictions, grief, loss and the celebration of our successes, takes practice, like running a race. One does not just run a marathon. One works up to it. Step one is to brush off the Cheeto dust and get off the couch. Only months later is the 10-mile run possible.
I hope we can turn off our devices and sit in the “cell” of our homes – ponder our lives. But many will not. To face our inner life is sometimes hard work and even a dangerous inner-neighborhood. So we reach for a drink, or a phone, or a porn site, or a ranting, or an Amazon catalog. We self-anesthetize. Amazon is well-named….we have access to a jungle and river of merchandise. And yet sometimes what is in that Amazon river – the water viper – is there swimming with us as we shop.
When the prison system was developed, the word “cell” was taken from the monastic lexicon and used to name the isolation of a prisoner. The “cell” was their time out. Longer, perhaps than that of my little nephew, the imposed isolation of a prisoner’s cell was given as a “gift” to help the prisoner to think about their life and their choices; even to think about new possible futures. “What went well in my life? What went badly? How might I live differently? “ These are the questions a prisoner asks in “solitary.” These are the questions a monk or nun asks in their cell also. These are questions for us too, in these self-quarantined, self-isolated days.
Might we use this “disruption?” Might there be a psychic silver-lining to the “stay at home” orders which have migrated from medical suggestion in February to civil law in April? Rather than reaching for something when we feel pain, might we sit in our “house-cell” and ponder the planet beyond our walls? Might we ponder a moon that beams down on this blue-green sphere such that we become more aware, more compassionate with “those others” out there, such that “they” become “we?” Might the racist see their racism in this quiet time? Might the bigot see the rage in themselves? Might the hoarder of possessions see materialism-gone-mad in themselves? Might the addict, see addiction in themselves? Might the paranoid-perfectionist see that world-directed fear boiling in themselves? Might we see what we need to see beyond our addiction-walls?
Often people would see me in my monk’s habit (the clothes of a monk) and ask, rather too eagerly “What is life like as a monk?” My response was then as it is now: “a un-anesthetized life.”
Might we use these quiet days in our mini-monastery-homes to notice our addictions and set them aside such that we feel our pain and process it? Might we not only see ourselves for who we really are (the marvelous and the dysfunctional) but also for how we are all clustered on this planet together? And for a family or a couple isolating together, might we ask the loved ones with whom we are cloistered ‘What do you see in me that I might not see?” and then remain silent for the answer – really listening – rather than mentally building our rebuttal?
I do not anesthetize my hands every day so that nothing will hurt them if I, for instance, accidentally place my hand on a hot fry-pan handle. No. I want my hand to feel the pain so that I can let go of the handle quickly and save myself from deeper burns. So too with our inner-life. If we self-anesthetize our lives with our myriad of addictions, big and small, cocaine and compulsive shopping; will we will not be able to feel the inner equivalent of the frying pan burn? As bodies are what we eat. As souls, we are what we let ping or buzz at us in our pockets.
We all have a choice as to how we live these weird days, weeks and perhaps months of Corona-cloistering. Use the cloister and even the cell, well. Feel the pain. Metabolize the betrayals. Release the grudge. Get to know your inner-you. Detox from your addictions. Sit in the “cell” of your body and your home and, in time, the walls and window-bars will disappear. You will find yourself “alone, with.” And “alone, with” is how we were designed to live. There are not “lives” on this blue marble we call earth. There is only “life.”
What I find is that the more I look hard at my life and long for the betterment of myself, the better my life becomes. But it’s also like the old saying of a husband to his wife… “The more therapy I get, the better you behave.”–
Charles LaFond is an Episcopal priest, author, speaker, potter, and fundraiser living on the cliffs of an island in the Salish Sea. He writes The Daily Sip; which is neither.