What would you give up?

There is a striking parallel in the lives of saints across religions, whether it be the Hindu rishis or the Buddhist monks or the Catholic nuns. They let go of worldly tangles and exchange it for joy. That seems like a pretty fair deal. Would I be able to do the same?

Celibacy and silence: I believe the two are linked together since the absence of the former makes time for the latter. And I want the latter. The long hours of silence and prayer speaks to a deep thirst inside me, but is it possible to delink silence from celibacy? Why not structure my life to match the nuns’ schedule without giving up husband-sex-children? They wake up at 5.00, prayer-mass-bible-silence until breakfast at 9.00, then off to work, pray again for an hour at lunch, then work again, and then 5.30-7.30 community time, and then silence-prayer-bible-mass until bed. I could have the same schedule, simply replacing community time with family time. It would take discipline, but it is not impossible.

Giving up ipad, ipod, personal laptop, computer, and the vow of poverty: The nuns claim that giving these up was a big relief, and I can understand their view – how wonderful it would be to cease striving; to do one’s best every day but to unclench and let go of the death-grip on goals – career goals, goals for the kids, retirement-savings goals; what a relief it would be to let go. These certainly give me no joy, and stuff, in any case, happens, no matter how I try to bend reality to my will.

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Still obsessed with nuns…

What is the secret of the nuns’ joy and peace? Can I replicate it, within the context of my life?

Let’s start with the easiest – makeup, pretty shoes/clothes etc. – these I think would be easy to give up, a relief not to have to think about what to wear to work everyday – the frustrating daily calculus of determining what would be feminine, but not too much so; what attire would display authority while still being approachable; what combination of sweater and scarf would ensure that no skin is displayed without treading into hijab territory. Oh and not having to worry about hair and its arbitrariness? Yes! Giving these up will not be a sacrifice. I can easily see how this alone – donning a uniform every day which covers my hair – would significantly improve my quality of life. And I wouldn’t even be the first to do this. So no problem with this one. I could simply decide on a “uniform” (white shirt and jeans?) and buy 15 pairs, and I am set for life. Done.

Community: Oh, to have the community that these women share! I am most envious of this. I bet that just this one thing – being among a community of sister saints – increases their joy. But this one is difficult to replicate for a lay person unless some serendipitous combination of circumstances makes good friends move close by and they also have the time for daily community.

And then there is obedience: This is the most problematic of all. The idea I think is the following: I want to read a book but the kid is sick, so I must joyfully (instead of resentfully) give up my desire and obey, enjoying my time with the kid. I can see how that would lead to peace. But what about obedience within a context of unfairness? There is something cow-like about these nuns who are joyful within a church that denies women. It is troubling, their untroubled joy. Do they not care about injustice and hence not hear God’s call to correct it? Or is it that we only hear that which already exists within us? Or are some of us are called to care about particular things, while being blind to other equally important things? It is troubling-confusing, the sisters’ joyful acceptance of the status-quo; inexplicable in an otherwise perfect model of what humans could really be.

Binge watching nuns

Every free minute of the past 2 weeks, I’ve spent watching youtube videos of nuns. I’m obsessed with these women: there is light and joy and peace radiating from them, and they burst into peals of giggles at the slightest provocation. As Oprah said in one of the youtube videos “what are they doing for their skin? They glow!” They disarm me with their humility and humor. This is who I want to be. But what is their secret, and is it possible to backward engineer and replicate their joy?

The nuns say God is the secret of their joy. They say the vow of chastity, poverty and obedience are crucial. Obedience is especially important – to negate self, and to bow to the will of a higher power, and to believe that earthly bosses/colleagues/circumstances are vehicles for Godly commands, and to obey, completely and radically. As I watch them prostrate themselves, my body aches to do the same; it is the same reaction I have to the motions of Namaaz; kneeling, bending, prostrating, raising one’s hands to the heavens in acceptance. They say community is crucial, and they have 2 hrs every day when they break their silence to laugh together as they play volleyball, hockey and cards. They say silence and prayer are at the heart of everything; time spent with the Lord listening, being still, allowing for space in a cluttered mind to listen for the still, small voice.

I am struck by the fact of these women, who’ve given up everything the world teaches us we need, and are more joyful than anyone I’ve seen in the world. No makeup, pretty clothes, no tweezing, no pretty shoes, a lot of silence and prayer, no children, no husband, no intimacy, no sex, no pay, no personal ipads, ipods, laptops, computers, and of course, obedience.

What would life be if one overturns a lifetime of assumptions about what one is supposed to be striving for, and simply stops and throws all of these out the window?