The Monastic Life During Lockdown


Billy Ferguson/Fourth Estate

For better or worse, we must decide to accept our fate as modern monks. As you are no doubt aware, because of this virus, we have been spending a great deal of time withdrawn from each other. Although society could benefit a great deal from a few months of monastic life, it appears we are having a difficult time appreciating it. It may be the current public perception that the monastic life is something to be looked down upon, but I believe it’s times such as these in which the monastic mindset would be of great benefit. 

Our world has been moving so fast. Constantly commuting, working, hanging out with friends, doing this, doing that, waiting for that or getting this is essentially what our lives have become. But within the past two months, our cruising Cadillac of life has hit a brick wall: the coronavirus. We have been so used to getting what we want when we want it, but now we are forced to remain content with what we have. 

We can only watch so many episodes of “Tiger King” before our heads explode with frustration at nothing happening in our lives. Society simply doesn’t know how to deal with silence. So what is there to gain from this monastic life? 

A major part of the monastic routine is focused on contentment and meditation. Living in a remote monastery away from the hullabaloo of society was the original motivation to join during the monastic movement in the fourth century. Perhaps that idea of living away from the busyness of it all is what disrupts our sensibilities so much. It is as though we choose to add more distractions and noise, rather than quiet time of reflection. We don’t want to dwell on the deep questions of life, such as: “What is my purpose?” “Did I do the right thing?” “Is there more to life than materialistic gain?” 

Now — more than ever in our generation’s time — we need to confront these questions. With the collapse of our economy, our faith in government and our social stability, we hopefully will realize the futility of investment in materialistic ends. Let us ask ourselves, have we been running after the flashy lights of the world as a distraction from what really matters? 

Value is in the eye of the beholder. But even though it is subjectively determined, most of the things which are greatly valued are only temporary. Money and status are only as lasting as smoke. It’s here one day, then gone the next. Sure, you can keep it around for a while — maybe even your whole life — but you will never find a moment of peace just by the nature of them being inherently temporary. There always will be the chance of it all slipping away. So what really matters then? The monks and nuns of old knew what mattered was not the wonders of this world. They pursued things beyond this world — and yet — enjoyed them in the world.

For hours every day, these curious people would meditate on questions of the intangible but essential aspects of existence. What does it mean to be merciful? What is justice? How can one become full of selfless love? What is God? How does God fit into this world? Most importantly, what is my relationship with God? My sincere hope is that you will come to make the best of our time in solitude. 

I have found many hours of reading and writing to aid me in this task of reflection. Also, taking quiet walks has been a wonderful way to put my mind at ease. Since I am still here on campus, I can fully appreciate the bright blooming blossoms and the flowing flowers across our many gardens. This tranquil environment helps coax my anxiety-ridden mind into a peaceful state to consider virtues such as justice, love, humility and gratitude, and how I can do a better job of treating my fellow students with these virtues.

Contemplating questions of what really matters is, although very monastic, the best hope we have for creating a more purposeful tomorrow.