When I wrote last week, I had just gotten back from my wanderings of the summer. I was talking about "settling down". About being where I belong. I was looking forward to getting back into the life here and musing on how the events of the summer were going to be affecting my monastic journey.
Boy, did I underestimate what I was going to have to cope with!
So how did this week of gentle reflection and deep prayer actually turn out? Well, I had major difficulties sleeping. Every time I looked inside what I saw was more like chaos than peace. When I tried to force myself to meditate I got emotional rebellion on a major scale. I was, in short, a mess.
This was not, to put it mildly, what I was expecting. Hadn't I had several enriching journeys? Had I not benefited wonderfully? Wasn't I looking forward to integrating everything I had experienced since the beginning of July?
It took several days of puzzled struggling before I began to cope consciously with the realities of what I had put myself through. In less than 8 weeks I had traversed through 9 time zones and 14,000 feet of altitude. I had changed my diet several times. I had coped with all of the wonderful stuff people had offered me in the way of things to eat and to drink. My hours of sleeping had been wildly erratic. The physical demands had been considerable.
And now I had suddenly stopped. Did I think I was going to settle down automatically and quickly? Did I think that peace and inner harmony were going to envelop me on call? Whatever would cause me to expect that? The image that comes to mind is a big tub of water being sloshed around. When you stop pushing the tub, the water still keeps sloshing back and forth for quite a while. It doesn't settle down immediately.
That's me. Sloshing.
Add to this the fact that one of the things I deal with on the physical level is a fairly severe case of Hypoglycemia. And one of the first things I learned about coping with this condition when I was diagnosed years ago is to avoid anything that would upset the adrenal system. Eat at the same time every day. No big changes. Go to bed at the same hour every night and get up at the same time every morning. Be careful of big emotional swings. Take it gently and quietly.
Oh sure. The exact opposite of what I've been up to for weeks. No wonder it seems to me that I'm such a mess inside - I am! Among other things, adrenaline is pumping through my body, and I suddenly have ceased doing all the stuff that produced this reaction. The adrenal system produces lots of wonderful chemicals that have all kinds of emotional, psychological and physical effects, and this has major spiritual effects as well.
Not that the spiritual life can be reduced to a matter of what my adrenaline is doing, but the body is a crucial part of the life of prayer, for better or for worse. And for the moment, things are rather on the worse side. When it comes to the spiritual journey, the body isn't going to be ignored.
It will calm down, of course. I'm already seeing that. There are various things I can do to help that along too: diet, regularity of sleep, breath work, gentle exercise. And I can observe the progress of this curious pilgrimage my body is making. I can also make some plans. I knew that doing the programs in England and Kansas back to back was not the best idea. I was right. I've said that I'm not doing that again. I have to be serious about that. I already know that I'm doing the Benedictine Experience in Canterbury again in two years, so I have plenty of time to get serious about how I plan that time. Obviously I have limits, and I have to be respectful of that. Easier said than done, of course, but I have to be serous about it. This is a physical matter, and it is a spiritual one.
It's also a pretty amazing experience, all things considered. You never stop encountering things that you can learn from.