Hermit Tips for Living a Good Life

This is my last night here at Holy Wisdom, after four weeks of quasi-hermit-monastic life. All along, I’ve been collecting “wise advice”. Here it is! You’re welcome.

The natural landscape around us changes in some way every day, usually in ways only noticeable in about three-day increments. Look around and notice time going by…

Our ability to sit still or be silent is probably equal to the degree we accept ourselves for who we are. (This may change on a daily basis.)

Shoes that fit make all the difference. It was very cold when I first got here and I hadn’t brought sturdy shoes. I got a cheap pair at Target, then was miserable for a week, clomping around in them before I caved and ordered something solid online.

Here, we do everything slowly. The sisters read scripture and psalms more slowly. We pause in worship. I walk around the grounds on my own two feet, and don’t drive much. People are working hard here but they aren’t rushing. I’ve been writing letters by hand, and only go on the internet two times a week (except for the weather). Even if we can’t do it all the time out in the world, it’s worth rebelling against the powers and principalities and taking your time with something in your life every day. Choosing the slow line at the store. Driving slowly (or at least not speeding). Whatever.

The speed we do things is the speed time goes by us, I’ve noticed.

Wherever you go, there you are. (Old chestnut, but true.)

Centering Prayer (resting in God’s love in silence for 10-20 minutes) is one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried – I really gave it my best effort this month. Practicing with monastics who’ve been doing it for decades is both intimidating and motivation (they do it twice a day here). I notice that when I try to meet God in the silence, I can’t help but get in my own way. Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love tells an Indian monk that she just can’t get her mind to hold still. He replies, “It’s a pity you’re the only person in the history of the world who ever had this problem.” I repeat this to myself when my mind complains: *This is so haaard! *

Centering Prayer has also taught me to forgive myself every day for (mostly) failing at focusing on God’s love for twenty minutes (heck, for ten), but to keep trying. Keep trying. Keep trying.

Did you know vacuuming is more fun after – just say – you’ve had to vacuum up a whole bunch of ground nutmeg, because then every time you vacuum, the air is filled with the smell of nutmeg!

Roasted vegetables are really delicious. Especially with cheese. Try a mess of them, cut up and mixed with olive oil, at 400F for 15-20 minutes.

It’s surprisingly hard to allow yourself to do nothing. As in, nothing that most people would describe as profitable. (Looking at trees, journaling, reading books you don’t have to, napping, etc.)

However, in a day with lots of "nothing," it’s helpful to have one profitable thing to do (helping in the kitchen, writing a letter, collecting prairie seeds, going to the store, meeting someone for dinner) to maintain an even and peaceable temperament.

It’s surprisingly hard, even when there’s nothing else to do, to do what’s good for you – like take a walk, do yoga, read a hard book, do centering prayer, not eat ten cookies, etc.

Knitting and cross-stitch have aroused in me the same addicted feeling as playing games on my iPhone: half focused, half mindless, with pretty colors and measurable goals. I understand my female ancestors so much better now.

I like getting mail so I started writing letters to a handful of friends to see if they might write back. Not everyone can, but some have. A real joy. Write me a letter and I promise I’ll write you back. (It may take a while, since we’ll be abroad soon, but I promise I will.) 584 Red Barn Trail, Bolingbrook IL 60490.

An acorn grows into an oak tree. I mean, really – this is crazy.

You know what? Adults wake up in the middle of the night. It’s a fact. I’ve been relaxed, sleeping alone on a good mattress, in the midst of a mostly silent monastery campus, soused in prayer and scripture, but I still wake up during the night. I still seem to get rest, but I’ve been learning here just to expect it and then try to ignore it.

Being who God created you to be is hard. That seems ridiculous. But I’ve expended untold amounts of energy and anxiety trying either to be someone I’m not or trying to please others by being what I imagine they need me to be. This is wrong. It’s like lying. And it’s exhausting.

Eating right makes you feel better. I’ve been mostly a vegetarian on sabbatical and eating very few processed foods. My body feels different: light, energized, clear-thinking.

Quesadillas are a miracle food. I mean, you can put anything on a quesadilla and they cook in like three minutes. Except if you’re like my friend Monica and can’t eat dairy. As she put it: there’s really no replacement for cheese.

Humility makes life easier. I don’t mean low self-esteem - just humility. I’m not the greatest and I’m not the worst, although my mind tries to tell me both things on a regular basis.

My favorite spiritual teachers here have been:
St. Benedict of Nursia
Emily Dickinson (a bit of a hermit herself)
Teresa of Avila
Elizabeth Gilbert
The Benedictine Women of Madison
Other guests: Melinda, Mary Lynn, Mary, Judy, Joan, Carson, Mike, Jessica, Cameron, Marj, and Monna.

Scripture we've been reading in the daily office this month:
1 Timothy
1 Corinthians
Psalms, Psalms, Psalms