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Worry not for Tomorrow
A final update from the Hermitage.
The trouble is that we live far from ourselves and have but little wish to get any nearer to ourselves. Indeed we are running away all the time to avoid coming face to face with our real selves, and we barter the truth for trifles.
—The Way of the Pilgrim
Who can free himself from achievement And from fame, descend and be lost Amid the masses of men? He will flow like Tao, unseen, He will go about like Life itself With no name and no home. Simple is he, without distinction. To all appearances he is a fool. —Zhuangzi. (Thomas Merton version)
It was a year ago today that I first posted here at Stillness in the West. How about that? At the time I had only a general, perhaps even confused, idea of what I intended to do with it. To be honest, I am still trying to figure that out exactly. The first post I did was on my experience of initially coming to the monastery. Little did I know that I would spend the next year here and how that might change me. And it has changed me. Granted, I can’t really yet fully say—and I may never be fully able to say—just exactly how and in what ways my time here has changed me. What I do know is that for reasons that exceed my limited ability to know, if one sits in silence long enough, interesting things begin to happen. In this, I am only at the beginning.
Similarly, I didn’t expect this substack to grow even as much as it has. This has been a pleasant surprise. I am grateful for all of you who have subscribed and participated in the conversation here. It is hardly a secret that we live in tumultuous and even disturbing times. It is often exceedingly difficult for any of us to see clearly how to respond. The rate of change is only increasing and the trajectory of our civilization is now radically inexorable. To call our times uncertain seems to me to be a vast understatement. For most of us, even our best efforts can hardly keep pace with the epochal shifts going on around us. Everything is being turned on its head.
With the first year of this Substack behind us, it is worth pondering what it might mean to respond more fully to this growing chaos and upheaval. Time is not on our side. One of my early proposals was what I called the Arsenios Option, i.e., flee the world, sit silently in silence, and dwell in stillness. Much of what I had to say over the past year was meant to be an explication and commentary on this initial proposal. But as the year has gone on and the extent and near inescapability of our technological civilization has become more apparent, the question remains whether or not there remains any place to which one can flee. Certainly, for the vast majority of us, there isn’t any place to find a safe harbor. To expect it is largely a fantasy. We are now fully exposed to forces we are unable to protect ourselves from.
It didn’t take long for me to replace “fleeing the world” with “fleeing the world of distraction and ambition”. This is a much more attainable goal—and doesn’t require a change of location to begin. Though it is, needless to say, still very difficult to do. What becomes clear, and this often very quickly, is just how deeply “the world” has its hooks in all of us. Yes, even at a monastery in the remote wilderness. I know this to be true in my own case. Letting go of my own agendas and ambitions can sometimes feel like a little death. No, actually, not just sometimes, but always—and it is a death. But if I don’t die that death, then the world will still rule my heart as thoroughly as it always has. The world, rather than God, will sit on my heart’s throne. It has sat thus for so long now because that is exactly the way I have wanted it, as difficult as that is to admit.
Unless, and until, I can see this and let it all go, I am certain that I will continue to go mindlessly along with what the world offers me no matter how disturbing I find that direction to be. It is both as simple and as difficult as that.
Over the course of the next year—God willing—my intention and hope is to go even deeper into the question of how to respond to our unprecedented situation. With your help and insight, I hope at once to begin to ask these questions more radically while at the same time doing so much more concretely and practically. We may not be able to flee to a remote location—monastic or otherwise—but we can spiritually prepare ourselves for what is quickly overtaking us, to what is in fact, already here. Over the past year, my view of the future has become darker, but my hope in what lies open for us has also grown commensurately, if not even more so. In short, the realities we will have to face are unlikely to be ones of our choosing. But the good news is that we can face them with great joy, confidence, and freedom. We aren’t helpless.
The foregoing is, in many ways, a preamble to the fact I will be leaving the monastery at the end of the month. Let me make clear that my time here has been an unexpected blessing. I am grateful to Abbot Theodore and the monks for their kindness and indulgence in allowing me to live here. I have found over the past year a community and a way of life that has allowed me to go deeper into silent prayer than I otherwise could have done on my own in the world. I have had the benefit of a year-long conversation with everyone here about monasticism, spirituality, silence, the state of the world, etc., which has only deepened my understanding of what we are facing. For this, I am truly thankful.
But it has become clear that it is time to move on. Part of this is, yes, financial, but that is the least of it. I know that at this point I am not called nor am I inclined to be a professed monk—though my respect and admiration for the monastic vocation has grown surpassingly over the past year here. Yet, regrettably, it isn’t my vocation. I leave here with a sense of great sadness in my heart, but also with great expectation and curiosity about the unknown future. There are no guarantees in this life, that much is certain, and my intention is to reenter the world with as little of my own previously futile agenda as possible. We shall see.
That said, one thing that I think will be unavoidable is to find ways of applying what I have learned in solitude to life back in the world. This will be, no doubt, a great challenge. But one that is of great importance to all of us. It is difficult enough to find peace out in the wilderness, with food and shelter provided, and in an environment exactly conducive to contemplation. It is quite another to do the same in the noise and hubbub of the world. It will be interesting to see just how much of a shock to the system that turns out to be. It would be very easy to get used to life up here. In many ways, I wish I could remain. But this path isn’t the one for me.
One of the things I had hoped to do while I was up here was to do more remote podcast interviews. The internet signal up here was, alas, too weak to allow me to do so. But I can hardly complain. My hope is that once I get back to the world I can start offering that more regularly. I have a number of interesting people in mind, many of whom have already agreed. There is an orbit of related substacks which are looking at our current metacrisis from various compatible angles and approaches. I think it might be good and interesting to bring these various viewpoints into a deeper conversation. My hope is that doing so will be helpful. I believe it can and will be.
My next move after leaving the monastery is to go down to Arizona to see my father. He has been having some health issues as of late and it will be good to see him. After that, at least as far as I can tell, I will drive over to Florida to see my mother. My brother, who has been living the past 20 years or so in England, will be going there as well. From there, who knows? We will see what presents itself.
Admittedly, I have never been all that good at trusting things to unfold as they will. Though I know far better now how futile my own efforts at controlling the direction of my life actually have been. Letting go, broadly speaking, will be my main practice—at least for the time being, and I hope to have more to say about that in the near future. Jesus tells us to worry not for tomorrow, that today’s troubles are enough. I know this to be true, but I don’t always believe it. But for the first time in a good, long while I have far less choice in pretending that I can live any other way. I am apprehensive about the future, that is for sure, but I am also looking forward to learning how to let go of my anxiety and of all the things I am unable to control.
Which is, it turns out, pretty much nearly everything.
I am committed, as best I am able, to keeping Stillness in the West open to all readers. I believe the conversation taking place here—and elsewhere—is an important one and the more of us engaged in it the better. If you feel similarly, please consider supporting what I do. I am grateful to those of you who have already done so.
Thank you to all. Be well.
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Spring has finally arrived here in the little monastic canyon. I must admit it the winter up here at altitude has had its own challenges. Cabin fever is a real issue during the deep winter. There isn’t really any place to go but inward other than to distract oneself. I haven’t always won that battle. But I think—I hope—I have learned from this struggle regardless. Yet the simple grace of walking back from the chapel after compline in the darkness under a night of crystalline stars is more than due compensation. The number of such blessings is at this point beyond counting. Everything is grace.
Please pray for me.