When we die to something, something comes alive in us.
If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive;
if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.—Fulton Sheen
In Monastic Life, in the Cistercian order, we take a vow of ‘Conversion of Manners’. Vows can be life-affirming if used as a compass on how to traverse the many situations we meet up with on a daily basis.
I suppose in reality if we wish to grow as human beings, and by that I mean to become more loving, compassionate and empathetic, which by the way is harder than it sounds. Many of our ‘virtues’, can, in reality, be mostly compulsive and in the end, we can become burned out, resentful, and bitter. I have been there, and over the years have looked upon these ‘negative’ responses to others as a signal to look into my own heart to see what I am doing.
Clinging on any level tends to limit perception and will often bring about the opposite of what is intended. This can easily be seen when we see those in our circle lose friends, or even destroy their marriages by excessive clinging, or by being jealous. True friendship, or even a good and loving marriage, can only happen when there are healthy limitations that are accepted by both parties. Domination, even if it is by so-called loving actions will only smother, or chase away the one loved, be it a marriage partner, or in friendship.
Every day in community life I am challenged by those I live with. It is my own limitations, wounds, and yes my desire to be the center of the world, the community, even if unconscious, that causes many of my problems. In the
“Conversion of Manners’ vow, it gives me a way out, in the sense that it leads me to take responsibility for my situation and to not seek to blame others’.
If I ‘die’ to my desire to control my environment, and by that, I mostly mean the men I live with, it is then that I can let others breathe easier, and in the end, I can take deeper breath myself and live a life with less stress based on narcissistic self-concern. Looking into my own heart, my soul, I find enough to work on, so much to work on, that I do not need to worry about others in the sense that I would want to control, or manipulate them. When I fail to look within and take responsibility, it is then that I find myself being sucked into seeking to control, or a temptation to isolate.
I like things simple. I hate it when things get overly complicated, yet in life, things do get chaotic, messy, and have to be dealt with. I have to adapt to life, to others, yet be true to myself. However, people are not objects for me to move around on a chessboard, where I am the King, the ruler. Of course in chess, it is a game of strategy, a war game, very aggressive. So best to understand that I am not the King on a chessboard, but one member of my community, so there is no need for ‘war’.
In community life, be it marriage, or a monastery, or even in the workforce, it is service that we are called to. To serve, freely, without compulsion can lead to a sense of purpose, and even of love for those one lives with, or who is a workmate. Those in charge, in fact, if they do a good job, are the greatest servants. I have found that men and women of power, who do care for those they are responsible for, get back one hundred and one percent. It is that ‘one percent’ that is important.
For many, it is easy to see how others are shooting themselves in the foot all the time by entrenched habits that end up being an endless cycle of frustration for all involved. The focus on one’s self-destructive behaviors can be more difficult to spot, but again, often seen by our friends, as well as our enemies.
When seeking to grow in one's relationship with God, it soon becomes apparent to the seeker that there are obstacles that get in the way, and have to be dealt with. Blaming others is a sure-fire way to stay stuck. To think for oneself, and to not allow cultural brainwashing to take over takes time, effort, humility, and an understanding of the working of grace in one’s life. By the way, there are also negative aspects of faith and religion that have to be dealt with as well. Each person has to decide what that is.
The human habit of constantly judging others is one of the biggest obstacles in leading a life that is more humane and open to life, grace, and yes a deepening relationship with God. People are not objects, stereotypes, but each unique in their life experience, intelligence, and background, that can often be brutal and buried so deep that it is only manifested by unconscious reactions to life, or through addictions, of which there are many.
In the end, we are to treat ourselves with love and compassion, perhaps the hardest to let go of the self-destructive tendencies that come to our species so easily. Love oneself, love others, and God with our whole heart and soul can be a slow journey that takes a lifetime.—Br.MD