Occasionally, in conversations, people will ask what I did before my incarnation as a health and life insurance agent. For some odd reason I feel compelled to share that I felt my first calling was to become a monk and live in a monastery high on hill. But when I found out religious orders usually don’t take people over 40 years old, selling insurance was plan B.
The variety of responses I get to my monastic confession should be cataloged. Some people are very empathetic and say, “That sounds wonderful”, or “I have dreamt of that as well”. Other folks react with shock as if I contemplated joining a cult. They spill out responses such as, “Living in a monastery is like running away from life.” or “That sounds creepy.”
It is then necessary to explain that I have been attempting to live by a Benedictine rule of life for several years. I developed my rule when I became an associate of the Order of Holy Cross which is an Episcopal monastic order. Within my rule is daily Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, partaking of the Eucharist, education, retreats and support for the order. Did you notice I wrote ‘attempting’ to live by a rule? Some weeks and months are more difficult than others to maintain my rule of life.
My rule is pretty easy when you think about it. I am simply trying to structure my daily life to include certain routines to engage my faith. As we get older, most of us crave more routine and daily expectations. This could be the morning coffee and paper, the lunch time walk, the afternoon snack or the evening reading. Routines make us feel comfortable and enable us to focus more easily.
If you have ever spent time at an abbey or monastery you can appreciate the emphasis on routine. Daily prayers can begin at 4 o’clock in the morning. The monks are called to prayer 5 or 6 more times during the day. Who of us does not take a 5 or 10 minute break every couple of hours? These small prayer breaks, often times accompanied by song or chants, are a period of refreshment. Yet, the clock work routine of daily prayers serves as the companion to support the monks to stay focused on the spiritual as opposed to becoming hopelessly entangled in our transient physical world.
But the big lure of monastic life for me is focus. When you can focus and meditate, even for a short period, you get a whiff of real relaxation and clear vision. Layer on top of that in depth study of religion, faith, God and the cosmos coupled with physical work at the monastery and I think you have created a fairly perfect life. Or another way to put it; when you are able to excise all the anxiety caused by our consumptive lifestyle (clothes, food, cars, homes, strained relationships, etc.), there is the possibility for true happiness.
The order that I had been affiliated with moved their Berkeley chapter house to Santa Barbara. Consequently, for several years I really had no physical connection to the order. I have stumble upon the The Grey Robe Monks that has Eucharistic gatherings twice a month in Sacramento. This ‘monastery without walls’, as they like to call it, includes both men and women, some of whom have taken solemn vows. Their services are of a contemplative nature and in a simple setting. Austerity is a virtue.
I am not a proponent of doing anything half-way. Either do the work, build the project or run the race the whole way; no short cuts. Unfortunately, this is one area of my life that I have to make a compromise. I have made commitments and I do have obligations. But there will always be the allure of living that simple unfettered life where you can truly focus on filling your soul with joy. Perhaps, someday, when the second career of insurance ends, I can become fully engaged in the monastic lifestyle.