You’re gonna think I’m nuts, but hear me out.

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I believe in signs.

I don’t always know whether they are coincidence, signs from The Universe, or God or what, but I believe in their significance.  If that sounds too woo-woo, tree-hugging, new age whatever to you, I totally get it.  I’ve hugged a tree before and I’ll probably do it again.  But hear me out.

If your body can send signals that you are sick or something is not right, or body language can tell us things without you saying a word, then why not other signs?  Who is to say that we can’t be prompted into noticing things that we would normally blow off?  Who is to say there isn’t a greater message there?

Did that pair of shoes just tell me to buy them online?  Why yes, yes it did.

Who am I to argue?

Recently I had an experience that felt like this.  My dear friend Meagan Jones passed away recently at the ripe old age of 23…wrong in every sense of the word.   She was blunt and honest and loyal as hell.  She had an edge when she was annoyed and was brave when she shared the difficult truths of her life.

It had been about a month when I was sitting in church not paying attention—I’ll own that—and was thinking of her, noticing that even though she had died recently, I hadn’t thought of her for a few days.  I know in my head this is normal.  Still, the guilt arrived at the entrance to my thoughts and started pounding on the door.

“So soon?”   Guilt demanded, “You are forgetting her already?  Did your friendship mean so little to you that you forget a mere month-ish later?  That’s pathetic.”

Shoving Guilt aside, my mind drifted and tried to focus again on what was happening in the class at church.  They were doing introductions of new people.

“Welcome, what’s your name?” The class teacher said.

“Meagan Jones.”  The young woman asked.  I stopped breathing for a moment.

I don’t share this to make it seem extraordinary, just to point it out… The Don’t Miss This Moment of that experience.  “Her name is common,” Doubt countered.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that sometimes the universe, or coincidence, or God or even the incomparable Meagan Jones takes the time to show us something and the importance lies in our noticing.

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What French Monks Taught me about My Monkey Mind

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In a rush of a possibly naïve attempt at personal growth, I stumbled on the documentary “Into Great Silence” about monastic life inside of Grande Chartreuse.  It follows the lives of Carthusian monks in the French Alps.  Here’s the kicker; they have taken a vow of silence.  There is almost no speaking.  No background music.  No commentary.  (Think feet shuffling, creaking floors, and the quiet that accompanies no cars, no airplanes, no sirens…)

It took 16 years to get permission to film it and even then, only the director was allowed to film.  He used no artificial light.  I thought that I would learn about the “Great Silence.”  I didn’t expect to experience the great silence.

In my defense, it wasn’t like I’ve only watched Law and Order and West Wing.

I’ve tackled books on faith, spirit, the Tao Te Ching, compassion, the Amish, trials, prayer, meditation, the Quakers, the Mormons, solitude, forgiveness, love, fearlessness, grace, dharma, Buddhism, inner peace, grace, enlightenment, atonement and the Holy Ghost among other things.

I’ve read a handful of books about the lives of nuns (Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns and Stalking the Divine) and priests as well as Buddhist monks.   I have read books on silence as well (Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality and Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings.)

I felt prepared to watch “Into Great Silence,” to learn about monks, to get a monastic fix without having to actually take vows.  I hoped to siphon a bit of spiritual deepening by watching others.  Truthfully, I hoped to learn something.

And I did.

Here is the truth:

My brain is chaos.

I have the attention span of a fruit fly.

I could not sit still.  8 minutes into the film and I am jumping out of my skin.

 

Beautiful, rich, deep bells echoing over a snowy mountainside

More snow?  Am I really sitting here watching it SNOW????

A monk in creamy thick robes, kneeling and still in prayer.

Could they cut this to get to the next part?  What is he praying about?  Do his knees hurt? (insert 100 questions I have but will not be answered because I am quickly realizing that this is not just going to be about “great silence” but is going to actually BE silent. 

A single, small candle in an ocean of black.  On my computer screen it is the size of an eraser head.

How long is this going to go on?  I wonder if there is anything else to watch on Amazon         Prime?  How am I supposed to learn anything if they don’t tell me what I need to know??

The monks are singing.  Their voices echo in foggy complements of each other.

Ok.  That’s nice.  Singing monks.  I like this.

14 minutes into the movie.  It is 162 minutes long.

Here is where the learning happened.  It occurred to me that my reaction to this movie—which was delivering exactly what its title said by the way—was an indication of my monkey mind.  The swinging monkey that flung itself across the bars of my brain, from one reckless thought to another.  That undisciplined, inattentive, spiritually immature monkey.

What does that say about ME?

My mind looked to check email, learn interesting facts about the monks, find out the weather tomorrow and check to see if there would be a movie on later.  Anything but sit quietly and be with the monks.  Anything but slow my pace.  Anything to not reflect on how much I was totally lacking in the qualities I saw before me on the screen.

Simplicity.

Prayerfulness and meditation.

Attentiveness to the task at hand and only the task at hand.

The importance of consistent spiritual practice, rather than occasional or spiritual practice that is an after-thought.

 

I’m 84 minutes in and only now am I starting to appreciate these guys.

So I’ve decided to stop writing and actually watch.  Just watch.  Not watch and do something else.

Let’s see how it feels.