Amongst the patchwork of desert and grasses, sunlight and shade, lies a small Monastery of 10 nuns just 20 miles north of the border of Mexico, just south of Tucson, AZ. This delightful location not only produces a perfect setting for solitude, but nearly demands it of one if they were to spend any amount of time outside. The extreme change of weather baffled me to laughter; as I walked to prayer (a short walk) in rain, then sunshine, then hail, then sunshine. The patchwork of landscape seems to mimic the patchwork of weather in a way that brings out childlike responses from me.
One of my favorite things about my time at Santa Rita Abbey was the way in which I left with more questions than answers – for every question I asked or thought I imposed, I was given further questions. This, literally excited me, because it gave me more to think about, consider, and question. The beauty of these types of interactions is that it does in fact mimic true spiritual direction for the sake of true self-discovery.
The conversation I had here really centered on one’s ability to form a life of solitude, silence, contemplation – or at least form a life directed towards such things. I’ll be the first to admit that while I enjoy my time alone and in solitude, I can find myself in those situations nearly angry that this is the first quiet time I’ve gotten in so long, or I may be in a state of depression because alone time is not ideal for me in such moments that it appears. It seems as though the times in which I want solitude the most (in a way that makes it seem graspable, as if it is a material possession) are the times in which I should not engage in it. It seems that once I finally get to that place I am not put at ease and in solace, but rather, bickering about how long it took to get there, to have that time, etc.
It came up in conversation that during a busy job that demanded most of his time and energy Thomas Merton once wrote in his journal, “compassion is my new solitude.” His reference of compassion was to that of the work he was doing with juniors who were working towards becoming monks. Thomas Merton was heavily driven towards a life of quietude, yet once he accepted his position, he recognized how he could continue to maintain the solitude he so craved. Accepting the now is no easy task, yet it’s where the most pure of emotions, interactions, intentions, and seems to really dissolve me to what and who I really am. Bringing this about is no easy task when life surrounds us with distractions, and I want things my way and in my timing – but that isn’t real life – that is the façade that I’ve created, an illusion that only adds layers to my true self. These falsities are where I find horrid facts of my selfishness arise and while the simple response is to ‘stop’ or ‘change’ such facts, I’m asked, “why do I want to get rid of these things?”
Learning these things doesn’t make them begin, and seeing life as a practice in always learning and growing is only the start to knowing the direction to go. So, in sticking with the theme proposed to me at this location:
“When you get quiet, where does your heart take you?”
“Each little step toward the center seemed like an impossible demand, a demand requiring me to let go one more time from wanting to be in control, to give up one more time the desire to predict life, to die one more time to the fear of not knowing where it all will lead, and to surrender one more time to a love that knows no limits. And still, I knew that I would never be able to live the great commandment to love without allowing myself to be loved without conditions or prerequisites. The journey from teaching about love to allowing myself to be loved proved much longer than I realized.” Henri Nouwen
“It is useless to try to make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything we have done. In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from the effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life. We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting any immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.” Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island