That this ‘noon-day-devil’ could not be run from
The 1st and 2nd and 8th instruments of good works
The mind or the ego is unable to bear the frustrations of time. The feeling of crawling instead of charging through frustrates the ego. It demands immediate action, coercing our body and forcing it to engage in some activity as if to solve the problem right away. Through this agitation of body and Dom emotions we think we are doing something useful and thus this relieves the guilt and helplessness we feel in the face of our problems. The ego cannot bear to be helpless. But this agitation does not solve anything but aggravates our problems. , the body and emotions are agitated as if this will relieve the anxiety of the ego about ‘doing nothing’.—Gerard
When I was on my way to New Orleans to make my retreat there, I found myself becoming agitated, and even fearful. It was the thought of being in my friend’s house, by myself, in silence, without watching TV or listening to music, but a determined effort to make a good retreat. Time, and what to do with it has always been a struggle for me.
When I was a young monk, there were periods of time when I would almost panic about having empty space on my hands and finding it very hard to simply settle down in order torea, or pray. I felt like I was being chased, and this led to wandering around, feeling empty, and the more I ‘wandered’, the worse it got.
I would go to my room, sit down, start to do Lectio, then something would come to mind, and I would be up and running, going here and there, doing ‘important things’, that were actually a desperate attempt to get away from myself, from self-awareness. I wanted distractions, but the endeavor made things worse. The monastic journey does not lend well to living a life of dissipation…..it has a hell like quality to it for me.
I knew on some level that this ‘noon-day-devil’ could not be run from, as if it were some sort of outside force pursuing me. How does one escape from oneself? You can’t.
It was the letting go of self-concern that was the main issue, and still is when I find myself experiencing my own inner fragmentation and suffering.
The 1st, and 2nd, instrument of good works in the Rule of St. Benedict (chapter 4), is based on Loving God with one’s whole being, and the second is like it, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. I interpret this to mean, that unless I practice these two instruments of good works, the rest will not follow, or if they do, they will be in a weakened state.
The illusion exists that what I experience as myself, is actually real. Yet those who live with me know that not to be true. We see into one another more deeply than we see into ourselves, more often than not. Without love of self, these reflections I see in others, true to a certain degree, but mostly based on my own inner landscape, will be rejected and even hated. I can only interpret reality by what is inside me. A lack of love of God, and self will force me into a state of defense against those I look down upon as inferior. However, if through my love of God, I begin to love my neighbor as myself, then things change. For not to love one neighbor as one’s self, is to hate my neighbor as I hate myself.
The 8th instrument of good works is “Honor all men”. If I do not honor myself, as a child of God, made in the image of God, I neither respect myself, nor others, it is impossible. I can posture, be haughty, but it is based on a fear of others, and myself as well, on becoming aware of aspects of myself, that I would rather not encounter. I can also fall into compulsively ‘doing’ for others, and when not affirmed, or appreciated, become hurt, angry, or experience self-pity. Which leads to isolation.
It is obvious that God does not pamper his children. Like any calling in this world, monastic life has its own joys and trails. For instance, no matter how hard I seek to run from myself, I am surrounded by men who seek God, by liturgy, the Eucharist, by duties that I need to be faithful to, if not, it is to my own peril. Any life of commitment can be fatiguing, yet we are called to be faithful. When I fail to live up to my commitment there is a price to be paid. A life of drudgery, and in reality, of loneliness.
Self-knowledge and humility is what frees me from being overly narcissistic. My life is not all about me, but about my relationship with Christ Jesus, and my service and love of the brothers. I am naturally lazy, yet my duties keep me connected to my brothers.
In the (this) moment, no matter how difficult, or joyful, I am called to keep my eyes on the Lord, as well as to see His face in my brothers in community, as well as those I meet in the retreat house and beyond……this has a deep bearing on my own relationship with God and how I am present to the Infinite.
The paradox is that I can only truly learn to love myself by embracing all that keeps me from living out my calling. I have learned, all so very slowly, that to turn and face my own inner violence, self-hatred, and fear of time, space, and what I do with it, as the only doorway out of the inner maze that is often how I experience my inner-life.
I am speaking of my own ongoing struggles, and how I deal with them. I have found that my ‘anger issues’, are in reality based on my own deep anxiety. When I was finally able to ‘name’ it properly it has helped me to deal with my own irritation differently. I seek to control everything around me so that the community will not fall apart. Silly, yes I know, yet on an emotional level, it is very real. The grace of self-knowledge and proper naming has helped with that.
The death to self that Jesus talks about is concerned with becoming childlike, and not to become childish, and petulant.
We are each different, so I know that some will not agree with me, or interpret what I am saying according to their own light, which is as it should be. I do believe that the more we understand one another, the easier it is to live on a deeper level our monastic life, which is communal, as well as having strong elements of the hermitical life. Perhaps the main struggle is the seeking after balance, like standing in the middle of a seesaw seeking to remain still.—Br.MD