Getting back into the monastic routine after my trip hasn't been particularly easy. It's not that doing the things we do is difficult; I show up at meals, I show up in Church, I show up in the Incense department. But for me the first days after being away are lived basically on that level - showing up. The deeper connection is slower to reestablish itself.
I notice it particularly at the Offices in church. One of Benedict's instructions is to "sing the Psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices", and that's the harmony that I struggle to recover. Is this why Benedict is so wary of having people go away on trips? I wouldn't be surprised. When I try to recall my mind to the Psalms it rebels, and if I try hard enough I begin getting real resistance in the pit of my stomach; something that feels mid-way between disagreement and fear. Pushing at it any harder doesn't produce very good results.
It's slow to come around, this harmony. It takes a while. In this case it's taken a couple of weeks. I try to cooperate with what's possible. When a Psalm comes around that I can really get into, I jump on it with eagerness. Usually it's something about praise. I like praise and I do it with enthusiasm, so when a particularly praisy verse catches my attention, I let that place of praise and happiness down inside me open up and I use that passage, or verse, or half verse to let it flow. I'm also pretty good at the "help" verses, as in: "Why aren't you helping, God, why have you left me alone?" I can get into that really well. So I try to take advantage of the things I can be present for: "Come, let us sing to the Lord......" "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit......" "O God, why are you so far off......"
I also can almost always get into "Your Kingdom come, your will be done....." That one is so important and so deep, and it's almost always open to me. I can really get in there and pray that one with openness and longing. St Theresa advised people to "pray like you can, not like you can't" and I try to pay attention to that.
And then little by little the rest of it begins to open up. One of the verses that I keep my eye on is from the end of Compline each night; "Lord you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised." That is a tricky one - it almost always slips away from me. Each night I determine that I am going to stay with that one, and every night I get to the "Glory be" and realize that I've been completely absent. Why? Well, of course because it's about death. It's the song that Old Simeon sang when he realized that seeing the new-born Christ had completed his life and that now he could go - he could die. Does a 70 year old want to sing about that every night? Not really. On the other hand, does a 70 year old need to be paying attention to that? You bet. So I watch my mind trying to escape (and succeeding), and every once in a while I am open enough that I can sing in harmony with those words.
What a fascinating journey it is, seeing the things I welcome and the things I flee from. The angry Psalms, the judgmental ones, the pathetic ones, the violent ones; these are the last that I am able to open to. Is it because I have conquered all my anger, judgemental tendencies, my desire to be pathetic and my inner violence? Just the opposite, of course. It's that stuff I don't want to look at. It's there within me in very healthy amounts, but I'd rather deny its presence and float on a cloud of praise.
Of course the Psalms won't let me do that. They keep bringing up everything that I am, so that I have to look at it. Meditation helps, too. That's what gradually opens me up so that I can actually take advantage of the diet the Psalms are feeding me. One man I know says he meditates each morning so that he will know who he is that day. I experience that too, and the Psalms are always confronting me with my inner reality. It's a very powerful journey, and the end of it is still over the horizon.
But gradually the living of the monastic life brings me back to at least occasional moments when I can pray so that my mind is in harmony with the words, and so that the compassion that is the fruit of self-knowledge can take root little by little. Transformation. That's what it's all about.
And of course I also need to attend more carefully to what practices will keep the journey to self knowledge fresh while I'm on a trip. They will necessarily differ in significant ways from what I do at home. But developing my skills at deeper levels there is also part of what this journey involves.
Hmmmmm. Much to think about here.