Xploring Monasticism

Yes, I did cheat on the name. Why do you ask?

One thing I discovered last week while questioning the lack of peace in the community is that suddenly I had a lot less of it myself. I wanted to run right out and rescue everyone from themselves. The problem is, that I would have a hard time giving others something that I don’t possess myself. I could run right out, enter the lion’s den and…then what? Roar just as loudly as they do? Been there, done that. It wasn’t very pretty. More importantly, it wasn’t effective.

I feel like I have a responsibility to my two kingly fathers to guide the community in a positive direction. I just have a hard time figuring out how to do that. If I try to turn myself into some kind of leader, then I run the risk of falling into the ego trap myself. And, honestly, I’m an introvert. Jumping into the middle of social activities stresses me out. I’m not pretty when I’m stressed. So, what else is there?

I’ve always kind of liked the idea of being a monk. How can you contribute to a community while at the same time withdrawing from it? What do monks contribute? Everyone knows about Gregor Mendel and his peas. There are beautiful illuminated texts. There are chi gung breathing exercises that improve health. There’s kung fu! Monks are like a spiritual R&D department.

The word “monk” is actually pretty general. The rules are not always the same from one group to the next, but there are always rules of one sort or another. I would have to do a middle way kind of arrangement by default. I’m already married with child, but as a homeschool parent, I’m not required to hold down a full time job outside of the home. I don’t have much of a social life outside the internet. I’m practically halfway there already.

There are rules, and those rules seem intended to drive home some kind of spiritual point. A vow of poverty restricts the person from being ruled by money, and can emphasize the power of generosity. A vow of chastity can free a person who is ruled by sexual impulses, and in the case of tightly packing together a large number of healthy males in their prime, it can have a practical reason too! (Imagining a woman to be full of rot and disease was not meant to be a insult to women, rather a way to get young virile monks to stop thinking about them!) There’s also the vow of obedience, the rule that says that you will follow the rules. There are vows of nonviolence and vegetarianism which emphasize the value of life.

I see these vows as being a very precise prescription for initiating change in a person’s life in a specific way. Different orders take different vows, for different reasons. Before taking any such vows I need to think carefully about what the long term effects may be. I can’t just go down a list of commonly used vows and pick a few of them at random. One person’s medicine is another person’s poison.

I’ve been experimenting with rules on my own while playing video games. In one game, I made a rule that the character could not kill. That meant I could not do most of the quests I was given. (I made an exception for gateway quests.) I got my experience from crafting and gathering. Luckily that game, Aion, allowed me to do that. I got that character up to level 40. In SWTOR, I’m now playing by permadeath rules. No-kill made me value life around me. Permadeath, makes me value my own life. Once the character dies, I have to start over. It teaches me to be cautious and think before I start a fight. The previous character died at 7. The one I have now is 19.

So, what kind of monastic rules would be appropriate for the life I’m living now? Heru has already put in a vote for “no self harm.”  No hair shirts here! That also knocks out extended fasting or flagellation. It does include being careful of my internal thoughts and how I speak to myself. He pointed out that if I’m not nice to myself, then how can I be nice to anyone else?

It’s a start, but I feel I need more than that before I can think of myself as a monk. I need to continue with the research. What kind of practices will raise my spiritual awareness and benefit my ka?

A vow of purity might be well suited to a Kemetic. I should not beat myself up, or anyone else, if a decent shower isn’t available. Some things are unavoidable and should be taken with good grace. It is simply a means of showing respect for the body I’m in and for those around me. It’s easy to slack off on my appearance if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere. It’s not about vanity, just a basic level of respect and preparedness. I will have to spend some time exploring what “purity” means to me before beginning that one.

A vow of good speech would also be very appropriate for a Kemetic. I could use (Saint) Fred Rogers as inspiration here. He talked the talk and he walked the walk. That would be a hard vow to keep. I’m extremely good at snarking once I get started, and my language while driving is not fit for polite company at all. If we cut out those negatives, then what? We have to get creative with our positives. Mr. Rogers was able to stare down congress with his good words. He had some powerful heka!

The next pitfall lies in making it too complicated. It’s supposed to simplify life. It’s not meant to set me up for failure. It’s not meant to be so large that it crowds out the important things. Keep it simple, but make it strong.

What is my goal exactly? What is the root of the problem that I am seeking? If I don’t know that, then how can I choose? “Heart of peace” they told me many years ago. I thought they surely must have had me confused with someone else.

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7 thoughts on “Xploring Monasticism

  1. von186 says:

    Not much to add other than I’ll be interested to see where this leads. Definitely gives me some stuff to reflect on as well :>

  2. Neteruhemta says:

    I’ve never thought about taking the no-kill philosophy on games, that’s interesting. It’s pretty hard when I think about it, especially with one like Aion, where that’s a huge part of the story-line.

    • shezep says:

      It certainly slowed things down. I got really good at timing while walking around the mobs to get to the resources. Crafting isn’t free, so I had to learn my way around the market too. It was a fun experiment.

  3. The practice of monasticism is traditionally a contemplative, non-social one involving purity of mind, spirit, and body, as well as a withdrawal from non-monastery communities. The practice brings a person closer to god–or the gods in this case. As someone who wants to help the community as well, I’ve struggled with this. Bast made it clear to me that I would *not* be the one in the middle of the community, bringing people together. You won’t see me lecturing at any gathering, or leading clubs, or even organizing a Facebook group.

    She seemed to say, “okay, you’re doing the little faith.” A la St Therese of Lisieux.

    I absolutely don’t claim to understand everything, but I’m seeing some value in a practice Bast tried to get me to do (except I let that old enemy, ego, interfere). Do your work, then let it go. Write, paint, draw, sing–whatever. Just do it as an offering to the gods, then release it. Don’t try to push it on anyone; just let them know it’s there if they want it. Don’t worry about bringing together the community, or heading some big group. Let the gods do with your offering what They will. Don’t we say that gods and spirits have a way of making things happen if They can get to the right stuff?

    There’s also perhaps an aspect of “lead by example”. Forgive me for quoting the Gita, but it has some relevance:

    “Let not the mind of the wise disturb the mind of the unwise in their selfish work. Let him, working with devotion, show them the joy of good work.” (3:26)

    In this context, “work” refers to work done without selfishness or expectation of reward. It is work focused on God (in the Gita’s conception). You don’t shout your message from the rooftops. You lead by example. I think this idea is an interesting one for monastics. This isn’t to say that all us monastics are wise and those non-monastics are meanie-doodie-unwise-buttheads! Nor does it mean we shouldn’t speak up when we see something seriously wrong.

    Rather, I think the focus goes from the self and even the community to the gods. You don’t lose all sight of yourself or the community. It’s more like you have a. . . different perspective. I’ve caught snatches of it before dropping back into a more ego-driven existence. It’s terrifying and sublime in ways that are difficult to describe.

    By the way, before taking vows, try a dry run. (That way you can try out lots of different things.) How long the run should be depends on the length of your vows. You don’t need a five-year run for five-year vows, but six months to a year is probably good. You just want to see if the vow fits right or if it causes too much friction for you to stick with. It’s best if you experience things that tempt you away from your vows.

    For example, if you’re considering a vow to develop patience, you need to put yourself in situations that test your patience. It would be especially important to put yourself in situations with people (or kinds of people) you absolutely cannot stand. The kinds of people who make your blood boil, your jaw clench, and your mind cloud over with rage.

    Lifetime vows, long-term (5+ years), or vows that will be difficult to keep for whatever reason usually need longer dry runs.

    Even though I’m kind of in between religions now, I still consider myself a monastic and have put a lot of work and thought into what I do. Nothing’s even half done yet, let alone perfect, but things are moving the right direction. Good luck on your journey. It can be a lonely, frustrating climb up that mountain, but sometimes it’s quite wonderful and I hear tell the views are amazing. 😉

    • shezep says:

      Right now I think I will restrict my interactions primarily to this blog. I’ll try to follow the idea of good speech as I do.

      I kept thinking I should get more involved in the community, but it’s been a couple years, and that still hasn’t happened. I found myself tripping over a few concepts there, not because they were wrong, but because they were wrong for me. I’m tired of feeling so awkward. It was interfering with my relationships with the gods. I want to find my grace.

      If you don’t mind me asking, what were some of your experiences with monasticism?

      • Your experiences with community mirror mine. I let the chaos in the community all but destroy my relationship with the Netjeru. 😦 Nothing’s been the same since my bad experiences at the Cauldron, especially.

        Most of my experiences with monasticism have been positive. Those times when I’m in my “groove”, I feel . . . more peaceful, happier, like I have some place to go and someone to come home to. What other people do become less of a concern, because I don’t answer to them in any way, shape, or form.

        I am, by nature, a bit solitary, and monasticism gives me something to focus on so I can put that solitary nature to good use. Sometimes that’s studying scripture, or writing praises, or performing rituals, or anything else done explicitly for divinity or to help serve divinity (like learning an instrument so you can play for the gods, for example). When you try to live your life for the express purpose of serving the gods, life has a bit of elevated sweetness to it. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself; there’s no way to adequately describe it. It’s also hard, especially if you have an agnostic streak. Some days you sit there thinking, “am I doing this for gods, or for my imaginary friends?”

        Yet, there’s an element of extreme loneliness that I can’t shake off. I don’t have much of anyone in the way of friends or family. The gods are awesome, but when you’re sitting on the edge of your bed in tears because you have no one to celebrate your birthday with or talk to about mortal matters, no god in the universe can help you. It’s not the gods’ jobs to fulfill our mortal needs. That’s why They created lots of people instead of just a handful.

        Unless we’re talking about Christian monks wandering the desert, even monastics have someone to talk with, pray with, eat with, study with, walk with, etc.

        My monastic path has so far been intensely solitary. Some days I feel like a Christian monk alone in the desert. The desert is Set’s territory, and here you’re forced to come to terms with yourself, what you’ve done, and what you’re becoming. There is no hiding behind anything, no burying any truth in the sands, because before you know it the wind has uncovered what you were trying to hide. The truth hurts.

        I have nothing but respect for Set, but sometimes I miss the Bubastite nome. I definitely miss Egypt. India is wonderful, sure. It’s just, when you’re a Bubastite at heart, no place is as good as Per-Bast.

        • shezep says:

          The community I was in might not have been chaotic enough, actually. I’d sometimes want to talk about things, but then I’d just come off sounding weird because I see things from an entirely different angle. They were never mean to me, but it never stopped feeling awkward. I thought it might over time. Instead it made me question myself more, enough that Ra started getting annoyed by it.

          I do have friends that I talk to, but they aren’t Kemetic. We have a lot in common in some ways, but there are cultural differences too. It’s something of a blessing that they have no personal stake in my belief system. They can listen without feeling like I’m stepping on their toes in any way. That doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely, and it doesn’t stop that agnostic streak that you mentioned from making me doubt everything from time to time. (If you want to chat about any of this, I’m here.)

          I have done something almost like this before with Wakinyan, the Thunder Being. The vow was simple. “I will not run.” For practice, I simply painted henna on my wrists. Waki thoroughly tested that vow. The specifics were deceptively simple, but it came with a lot of side effects. It had me doing things that I never would have done otherwise. A couple years later, when the henna washed off in the shower, I felt no pull to paint it back on, and I knew we were done. There was no plan or term of contract. It just happened naturally. I miss Waki sometimes.

          When I got married, I had no wedding jitters at all. We both felt that the ceremony was simply a means of stating the obvious. This too should be a simple and natural thing.

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