Tag Archives: love

Taking Ownership

So, here’s an interesting thought that I stumbled upon the other day: the best way to maintain habits that you are trying to cultivate (i.e. working out, giving thanks, meditating, not procrastinating) is to alter your own perspective about your identity.

What this article argued was that by thinking of ourselves as the type of person who eats healthily, or the type of person who writes letters every week, we have a much easier time fulfilling those goals. It makes a lot of sense to me. Imagine having a goal to learn French. If you consistently tell yourself and others that you are the kind of person who is bad at learning languages, you’re automatically setting yourself up to accept failure. Success in that area is fundamentally ‘not you,’ and therefore much harder to achieve.

So where does this fit into my life here at the Monastery? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of person I want to be for the rest of my life–going to a liberal arts college tends to do that to you. Being here at the monastery is not only a chance for me to start over in a new setting, it is also an opportunity to be around people who are more like I want to be.

What I’ve learned, even in the first two weeks, is just how intelligent and traveled these women are. Benedictine sisters aren’t trapped in their isolated towers their whole lives, though I think some people hold that misconception. I’ve talked to women who taught for thirty years in five or six different cities. I’ve had dinner with women who are fluent in three languages (every Tuesday night there is a Spanish-language-only table). I’ve met women who studied art and Greek classics, women who had a career and then returned to school to pursue nursing, women who played three or four instruments and composed beautiful pieces. Most of them have been to another country. A lot of them have been to Europe. And they talk about politics, the news, canning, soap making, and all the people they know from all over the country.

These women inspire me. They continue to teach me new kinds of love, new kinds of gratitude, and plenty of new ways to wash the dishes.

So, what kind of person am I?

I’m the kind of person who listens and learns from others. I’m the kind of person who embraces every day. I’m the kind of person who takes care of herself so she can take care of others. I’m the kind of person who is so very grateful for the opportunities, big and small, that life provides. I’m the kind of person who will loves experiencing new places, new cultures, and new people. I’m the kind of person who finds beauty in everything and everyone. And I’m also the kind of person who writes, prays, sings, reads, thinks, and breathes deeply. (And it’s only the second week..)

The whole point is that I have to believe I am (or at the very least, can be) the type of person I want to be. Because that’s the kind of goal that is lived out every day, without guilt or pressure or shame.

So it’s time for you to decide. What kind of person are you?


Filling the Silence

Being a relatively non-religious person most of my life, I have never exactly established a personal relationship with prayer. Prayers were something my friends’ families said before dinner—a time when I’d bow my head and feel self conscious about not knowing the words. Any time I attended a Catholic mass, I found myself doing strange mumble-mouthing in an attempt to hide my ignorance. I much preferred the kind of prayer I found later, mostly on college retreats, that consisted of silence and personal reflection. But even that silence can be difficult.

Silence is a close friend of mine. I’m incredibly comfortable with silence. The reason the silence in prayer is difficult has a lot more to do with what fills my inner silence—my thoughts. After a few days of regular periods of silence (we have prayer service 3 times a day), I began to notice my focus drifting. No, not drifting. More like sprinting in four directions at once.

Prayer and meditation are similar for me, since ultimately I see them as ways to open your soul to forces within and outside your body. Personally, I tend to feel most connected with those forces when I feel strong emotions—or, maybe I feel strong emotions when I feel connected to those forces. Either way, based on this, I’ve taken up a new habit in my times of silent prayer and mediation that has been surprisingly successful for me: gratitude.

While I imagine the sisters’ silently listing off all the friends and family they are praying for, I run through memories. I see faces of loved ones, briefly relive times of struggle and sadness and conflict, recall joyous moments and all manner of tears. And over these images I can only think, “Thank you.”

My new method might seem a little self-centered, particularly given the number of people who I’d like to direct my positive energy toward. But since I have yet to figure out exactly how I feel comfortable doing that, for now I feel okay with simply appreciating. Ultimately, I can’t see any greater display of love and respect for the workings of life than to express gratitude for every piece of it. And isn’t love what it’s all about anyway?

A Non-Religious, Semi-Agnostic Walks Into a Monastery…

…and decides to stay for 9 months.

If that sounds a little odd to you, you’re not alone. My decision to enter the Monastic Immersion Program at St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho seemed a little out of the blue for a lot of my family and friends. To be honest, it even surprised me. But here I am, about to begin a yearlong program with two other women, working, praying, living, and studying as the sisters who live here do.

The assumption a lot of people make is that I must be thinking of converting to Catholicism or considering becoming a sister, but neither of those things is true. Although I am not affiliated with any church, I am, for the most part, comfortable with what I believe. Entering this experience, I have resolved to be open to the possibility of an epiphany or a sudden altered paradigm, but I also do not expect or even hope for it. So, what am I hoping for?

I’m hoping that being here will teach me about living out the values that underlie the Catholic religious practices. I hope to experience another way of life—one dedicated to faith, community, compassion, and simplicity. I am hoping to find a way to carry the peace that I feel here with me into the rest of my life and the rest of the world.

I have always been an introvert—a fact that I’m sure makes this yearlong stay much more possible. I am fascinated and compelled by simplicity, a life unburdened by unnecessary things and unhelpful negative emotions and thoughts. I love Seattle, and it will always be a home to me, but any city over stimulates me. I have lived at my current pace, chasing after cheetahs, for a long time, and I am ready to slow down and have the time to think everything through. It’s time to breathe and imagine a life where I feel at peace, maybe even in the midst of chaos.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard giving up all that I loved about my life: late night Thai and pizza delivery, the clothes I love but will never wear in a monastery, the friends who drink wine, watch scary movies, and laugh with me, the smell of Starbucks on a wet fall day. But on the other hand, it is so freeing to be in a place where I realize I don’t need any of those things to feel complete and happy (except the friends, but letters are a relatively good substitute). No pressure, no money, no TV, no crazy boy drama.

So this blog is to keep everyone who is interested in my journey here updated, intrigued, and maybe even inspired, if I’m lucky, to lead a more thoughtful, fulfilled life. And my hope is to prove that you don’t have to be in a monastery—or religious—to do it.

Here Comes Love, Here Comes Marriage…

I’ve been staying with my older sister and her husband for the last couple weeks, and it’s had a rather significant effect on my life. In addition to feeling a little less ready for the school year than I was before I arrived, I’m also feeling very, very unprepared for the things that I think I want in the future. Like a family.

My sister just had a baby boy, and when I say ‘just,’ I mean three days ago. I’ve been here to help and to watch the horrors and joys of childbirth and infant care and post-pregnancy discomfort. I’ve witnessed the amazing teamwork between my sister and her husband and felt the apparent and necessary love between them and for this new little boy. I’ve also seen some of the gritty details, including unfortunately placed stitches, painful bathroom trips, negative hours of sleep, and terrifying needles.

And here’s the thing: I still want all this.

I recognize how absolutely insane I’m going to have to become before I let myself actually commit to becoming pregnant, but I also acknowledge that ultimately, I think I want to be that insane. If only for long enough to make it happen.

But I’m worried. I’m obviously worried about the pain–and the medical procedures that I’ll have to be aware of and go through without fainting–but I’m more worried about something else. See, watching all this and realizing how vulnerable and completely incapacitated I would have to be in order to have kids makes me painfully aware of the absolute necessity of finding the right person to have by my side in the process.

Of course I always knew I needed to marry a man who would be a great dad. But now I see that I also absolutely need to marry a man who will always love and take care of me, even when I am screaming at him to please bring me ice chips and asking him to please take the baby and begging him to hold my hands while various very disgusting things happen to my lower half. I’m going to need a man who fully appreciates the difficulties ahead and who is more than okay with the idea that I may never look the same. Ever again.

I’m sure for some people, all that is something they already expected from a man they’d marry. And if you asked me before, I’m sure I would have nodded and said, “Of course he has to love me through all that.” But saying it and understanding it are two different things.

I think it’s easy for people my age to accept superficial love because we are still (and for many of us, finally) living a life where our appearance is a point of confidence. We take pride in how we look, how we dress, our sexuality, so we want to be appreciated for it. Naturally, then, as long as it’s not an unhealthy relationship, we don’t complain all that much if it seems to revolve around those things.

So it’s hard for us (maybe just me) to truly accept that love doesn’t come from lust. It’s hard to switch focus and look for relationships that are of a different nature–not the two-year stints I’ve been considering long-term, but the real nitty-gritty long haul sort of love.

That is what I want. Eventually. So maybe I should start trying something new. Otherwise, I promise, I’ll never, ever have kids.