Saturday, June 18, 2011

On Living Monastically

I really shouldn't be surprised that staying with Jason is such a monastic experience. We have talked often enough about his monk-like qualities; for so long, in fact, that I gave him this book way back when he was living in Michael and Nina's basement in Salt Lake. What really cinches it, though, is how much this last week has reminded me of living at the Wat last summer. Except with much better food. And air conditioning.  Let's not forget about the air conditioning.

To begin with, there's the no touching. To the comfort of my bishop and the dismay of Grandma Cook, Jason and I have this unspoken... rule/agreement/thing where we don't touch each other. It reminds me so much of working with the monks (who, if you recall, are forbidden to make any sort of physical contact with a female in any way) that I'm surprised I haven't fallen back in the habit of setting something down on the counter for him to then pick up rather than just handing it to him.

I'm also walking quite a bit more, as I always do on my summer travels and as you would expect from living in a city with a good public transportation system. I keep passing ads in the metro for the Car Free Diet, and I think, "Yes, absolutely. Living without a car is a marvelous diet."

I wish, wish, wish I could do this at home too. I love being able to get almost everywhere I need to by walking or by riding the metro. Walking to the monastery in Thailand certainly wasn't as convenient, but I did see the benefits then and I love them now. And walking just lends itself to contemplation, doesn't it? I tried plugging in and listening to music/podcasts a little this week, but quickly put my cell phone away in favor of being able to listen to what's going on around me and to think. I don't think I'm moving slower than usual, but I'm moving more mindfully.

I keep hearing Phra Sanjoy saying, "Mindfully, mindfully," especially as I go about living in Jason's apartment.  Everything has a place where it precisely goes, and I find myself constantly adjusting things, centering things, setting everything just so.   Jason is a fastidious person, and while part of why I do it is to avoid disrupting him, I figure it's a good lifestyle to try out for a while since my habits are home are not so tidy. I have a lot more stuff than Jason does (see: monastic qualities) which would make putting my home into this level of order and precision trickier, but I get the same itching here to organize my home that I do whenever I see Emily's neatly stacked and labeled clear plastic storage bins lining her garage. I wish I had those organizational instincts, but it's a learned behavior for me.  Or will be, perhaps.

The mindfulness comes with the slower lifestyle. It's easier to be so deliberate when a) I'm not working all the time (how Jason does it just adds to his remarkableness) and b) I'm doing it for someone else. Things are so much easier to do for other people, don't you think?

I like it. I like having the time to clean things properly, to wander through a museum for hours, to go walking just because I want to.  However, I keep getting twinges of guilt.  I think of how much my parents are working, how much Jason works, and I think that it's just not right for me to sit on a bench on the Mall and read a book for a while just because it's a good book and the weather's nice.

I think part of that guilt comes from the novelty of this experience, not just for me, but for anyone.  I don't know anyone else who has done this, so it feels more than fortunate.  It feels inappropriate.

In response, I started tallying the things that allow me to do this:

1.  I picked a career that gives me two months off in the summer time.
2.  I save my money and forgo other luxuries so I can afford to travel.
3.  I have parents who encourage and enable my need to travel.
4.  I don't have a husband or kids who need me around.
5.  I do have many wonderful friends who invite me to come stay with them.
6.  I happen to have one particular monk-like friend who happens to live in a fabulous city with a great transportation system and lots of free museums to visit, and that friend is generous enough to say, "Come stay with me for as long as you'd like."

When I look at it that way, I'm very lucky indeed.  I'd even go so far as to call myself blessed, and I bet my monk friends would agree.


  1. Anonymous9:17 PM

    Just 3 things:

    1) You deserve it. You work your a#@ off the rest of the year.

    2) We travel vicariously through you. More, please.

    3) GUACAMOLE Hummus ?!?!?!

    -An Enabler

  2. I love this post.

    I wish I could live monastically.

    I admire the way you structure your life to facilitate travel.

    This comment is a practice run at being monastic.

    But it is probably already too long.