05 September 2011

monasticism in daily life

As I prepare for my journey to Ireland (WHICH IS COMING UP IN TWO DAYS WHATAMIGOINGTODO), I am reflecting on how the monastic ideal touches us lay folk. Me in particular.

Packing up my things is a very interesting experience for me this time around. I am no stranger to it, since I moved every two years of my childhood--sometimes more often, but never less. I have lived in nine different U.S. States (in order, not including repeats: Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, California, Hawai'i, Texas, Alaska, Ohio, and Colorado) and two different cities in Japan (Zama and Tokyo). The number of addresses I have had in my life is staggering: twenty.


I am only twenty-two years old.

I was a bit of a packrat as a small child, but by middle school I had been cured of the habit. Every year, whether we moved or not, we would go through our things and discard or give away what we didn't use or need anymore. I grew to be ruthless in this practice, whittling down my wardrobe only to pieces I wear at least once a month (in their proper season), keeping only the knickknacks with an extra awesome- or nostalgia-factor, tossing instantly anything that I could easily do without. My giant collection of stuffed animals dwindled down only to those creatures with the most memories packed into their threadbare smiles even before I had outgrown playing with them.

By the time I went off to college I no longer had my parents helping me pack and the US Army paying for the shipping of my stuff. I grew even more ruthless. My first year in college I showed up with two large suitcases for the first month, before retrieving some necessities from my grandparents, with whom I had stored everything else that I owned. I easily had less than half the stuff that my roommate had. I accumulated some furniture when I moved out into an apartment, but gave the desk to my parents for keeping and got rid of the rest when I moved to Alaska, taking only--yeah. Two suitcases and my tenor saxophone.

When I moved to Ohio I took... two suitcases and three boxes that I shipped to myself. I used the suitcases as dressers for an entire year.

You'd think that after four years at college I'd have more stuff to show for it, but I actually have LESS stuff than I originally shipped back to the States after graduating high school. All of it EASILY fit into my small SUV for the long haul to Colorado. I have more books, but less net possessions.

What does this have to do with monasticism?

As I prepare to leave for Ireland, my plans are to take only two backpacks--a large hiking backpack with a frame and a small rucksack--and a duffel bag. I'm packing all my other things up for storage in giant Tupperwares and cardboard boxes. I am getting rid of some things, but I've been so ruthless in the past that I hardly have anything to give away. I can't give everything away because someday--in the distant, unseeable future--I may settle down, put down roots somewhere, and I will need these things then. Sheet sets, comforters, dishes, towels, pictures & posters--that kind of thing. Some things are made of memories and irreplaceable (and have no value to anyone besides me), and the others would be too expensive to replace (considering I've done a lot of that in the past--buying blankets, for example, then moving somewhere without them and having to buy them again).

It is really weird, though, to pack things up and realize you're not going to see or use them for an entire year, if not longer. Taking only what is necessary for survival and minimal comfort. This is a semi-monastic ideal--deciding what is necessary to live on and subsisting on that; little more. Having an attitude that leans toward, "yeah, I can do without that."

Rather than staying rooted in one place, however, as monastics do, I am wandering the world. I think I'm a bit restless. It's a pattern I found myself unable to break free from... I tried, I really did, to go to the same college for four years and beat my record of only living in one town for three years (although we did have three separate houses, and I went to two different schools). After a year and a half, I had to leave, and it wasn't anybody's fault... I just wasn't supposed to be at A&M anymore. When I graduated from high school I talked endlessly of settling down, rooting myself somewhere so deep and thoroughly that I would be torn to pieces before I could be shifted yet again.

I don't know if I am capable of that.

I don't know if I ever was. And I don't know if that's what I really want anymore. I want to exist in the present, to discover what it means to be truly human, without hiding behind possessions and habits and preconceived notions. In my case, to do that I have to continue leaving things behind. I cannot be too attached to any thing in this world, any place, any community.

Perhaps this is a preparation for my death--the ultimate voyage. Not that it's coming anytime soon, but this is part of being truly human, after all... dealing with that nagging question of mortality. I probably shouldn't wax too philosophical about it, however. Most of all this is a desire to experience life to the fullest I am capable, and to do that I cannot grow lazy, complacent; too comfortable.

I'm going to go with the hand God dealt me and become the nomad I was raised to be.

Don't forget me, though, eh? Relationships are what make this such an awesome life... if it weren't for my rootlessness, I wouldn't know all the wonderful people whom I know, wouldn't have met half as many as I've met and loved. I don't plan on forgetting anyone, at least.



  1. I identify with this a lot, which probably isn't terribly surprising since I'm military, too. But even when I wasn't--I left active duty for about seven years at one point--I found that I was nomadic. One of the reasons I came back into the military was because I realized I'm cut out for a life of change. I like living in different places. It's nice to visit, but visiting doesn't absorb the culture like living somewhere.

    I've also found myself wanting to whittle down my possessions. When I moved to Izmir, I shipped about 400 lbs of items, probably half of which was books (and another fourth of was clothing I didn't realize I wouldn't wear because I had lost my capacity to imagine truly hot climates). In other words, I still brought more than I needed, really.

    I sometimes think people like having stuff, but they actually use precious little of it. Or maybe I'm projecting.

    Safe travels!


  2. I don't think restlessness is a problem as long as you engage in it intelligently, which you seem to be doing. You may find in time that that particular itch has been scratched sufficiently, and you're ready to settle down. Or not. The future holds changes for everyone, but until you see what they are it's not something you need to deal with immediately.

    Ireland is a lovely place, and I wish you well on your travels. I hope it snows while you're there. You're probably better prepared for it than the natives. (grin) I have a number of co-workers near Belfast, but I haven't seen them in 6 or 7 years.

    I hope you don't mind but I'm going to add your blog to my regular rotation. I've been following Diana's blog for years (she knows me as Hinermad) and your style reminds me a bit of hers.