WILD MONASTICS are a small part in a range of ‘ new monastic’ movements that are unfolding around the world. We draw interspiritual inspiration from traditional monastic movements in different faiths and especially Christianity.
We aim to love and serve the world, particularly at this time of environmental crisis, through a wholehearted commitment to a rhythm of caring and contemplative living in ordinary and everyday contexts.
Over the last two years a small ‘Wild Monastics’ core group (plus visiting colleagues, friends and family) has met for sacred chanting, silent meditation & sharing in Dartington. This year the invitation to gather is continues with monthly meetings at 4pm, starting on Wednesday 11 October 2017 and continuing in 2018 from 17 January. New members are welcome – please contact Sam for more details & directions.
Below are my (Sam) initial, simple thoughts on Wild Monastics, based in my own experience & reflections on living a wild monastic lifestyle in recent years from my Hunters Moon Micro Monastery! I hope others might feel inspired to begin their own commitment to a wild monastic way of life or to share what they are already exploring and offering. I’ll be posting some reflections in the Wild Church journal and Facebook group over the next year or so and hope to hear from those of you who are curious or similarly engaged. I hope Wild Monastics might develop more widely in future and perhaps even grow its own land based home here in Dartington, so do get in touch if you are interested. Also, guests are now welcome in the micro monastery through Air B&B in a peaceful single room in the house or a cosy cabin in the garden.
All life is sacred and yet how often do we really remember this and act accordingly? How mindful are we, as we move into and through our days, how awake are we to the grace of each present moment and that how we live matters? In our presence, in our choices we can uphold peace, we can act in ways that support and care for ourselves, for others and the earth on whom all life depends.
Committing to Love
From ancient times people of faith have expressed their commitment to love life through making vows. These vows were (and for some still are) nested within ceremony and witnessed by community. Many people today no longer feel drawn to the traditional forms that this can take and yet still love as deeply and long for new forms through which to express their commitments to engaging more deeply with life. A monastery is essentially an expression of this deep longing, not necessarily a place but more a way to gather both inwardly and with others in service to the well-being of all. We may not wish or be able to live in an outer monastery and yet can still choose to live in the monastery of the heart.
Alone and Together
In the western spiritual traditions there have been many forms of monastic life. Wild Monastics take inspiration especially from Jewish and Christian people who lived alone and together in wild places. Women and men of the Essenes, the Desert Mothers and Fathers and Celtic Christians and their pagan forbears found many ways to express their commitment to peace through living as hermits and in varied forms of coming together in community within the natural world. They and later orders, such as the Franciscans, (and those of other faiths) are our monastic ancestors from whom we can draw inspiration. We can re-imagine new ways of living the ancient wisdom they have bequeathed to us. We can draw on their experience and support in meeting our current loss of connection which lies at the heart of environmental and social crisis.
Tradition and Innovation
We don’t have to ‘re-invent the wheel’ but the form it takes is different for changing places and times. All western monastics have shared three essential vows – of poverty, chastity and obedience and sometimes a fourth vow, often stability. To these Wild Monastics add a fifth vow at the heart of them all – ecology – a concern for the Earth and all her creatures. The words of the traditional vows, while being deeply precious to some, may not seem relevant to many of us now, they may even seem off-putting, and yet it is possible to crack open their outer appearance and find treasures within:
Poverty can be re-imagined as simplicity, as a commitment to change our life styles for the good. To consume less and love more. By living a simple life we can exercise the power we have to help the earth, through our choices about what we buy, what we eat and how we use energy. Also to express our concern for others, as in living a simple life we cease to take more than our fair share of precious resources.
Chastity can be re-imagined as faithfulness. Whether we are single or in partnership, heterosexual or otherwise, we can be faithful to vows we have made to ourselves and each other and uphold right relationship. We all struggle and none of us are at all perfect and yet we can keep trying to learn and grow, keep committing to relating with honesty, with kindness and we can be willing to engage in healing processes and seek support for wounds within and between us that inhibit our capacity to love and care for those who are close to us and all our relations. We can encourage ourselves and each other to have faith in the many forms of relationship.
Obedience can be re-imagined as commitment. While members of a traditional monastic community pledge obedience to their order and its leaders as an expression of their desire to serve God, a wild monastic can commit to the wellbeing of the environment, who some may picture as Mother Earth or Gaia… and to making conscious and personal choices about how best to serve Her as the living manifestation of the great mystery, source of all, ground of all being… or whatever name or understanding we each might choose for our sense of the Divine, for what is deepest & central in life.
Stability is a vow taken by monastics who commit to remain in a particular place and community. For wandering orders, such as the Franciscans, this vow may be dropped or a different fourth vow may be adopted, such as a commitment to serve the poor for example. For Wild Monastics stability can be a deep engagement, a conscious rooting and ‘hefting’ into a particular landscape and the family of all beings who dwell there, a contemporary indigeneity. It can be a invitation to get to know our neighbours, to come into community and also a subtle path of becoming more deeply present to our inner wild. The more we can mindfully witness and make peace with our inner landscape, the greater our welcome for the diversity of those around us.
Wild Monastics uphold a fifth vow, that of ecology, which sits at the heart of the all the other vows. This is a deep ecology, a commitment to respect the intrinsic value of the environment and eco-systems, and to re-orientate our own values to support this and to transform our inner and outer life accordingly.
A Rhythm of Life
Traditional monastics immerse themselves in a daily rhythm of prayer, study and work and their particular Order will often have a religious ‘Rule of Life’ that sets out the details of their communal life. New monastic movements often speak of ‘rhythms’ rather than ‘rules’ of life and Wild Monastics seek to orientate the rhythms of their spiritual practice into natural rhythms of the changing days, moons and seasons. A Wild Monastic life can be fully integrated into an ordinary life with family, employment etc. It may take a little while to figure out what your unique and unfolding way of being more deeply present and mindful in daily life might be and what methods & ways of meeting might support this.
Re-imagining the traditional disciplines of prayer, study & work may be a way into creating and committing to your own forms, here is some food for thought:
Prayer – means many different things to many different people. Christian tradition has many formal prayers & services to engage with and while it’s possible for anyone to enter these in a open spirit, for some of us the language can sometimes feel like a hindrance rather than a help. A Wild Monastic way of prayer is a way of living, a way of spiritual practice. Whether we call that being mindful, practising the presence of God or whatever, it is a commitment that can be helped by times of regular formal practices (such as centering prayer, mindfulness meditations, pilgrimage etc) and by the intention to integrate contemplative being into all of our daily life. Here are a few invitations:
start the day with a mindful moment and pause to breathe as your feet touch the floor when you get up… have a shower in a baptismal spirit… light a candle and pause for a moment of silence and celebration at the breakfast table… remember those who are in need… step out before work and open your senses to the natural world, however hidden it may seem… pause to breathe and stretch and get perspective at regular intervals during your work… take a lunch break and savour the food… take tea as communion… share music or friendship or loving silence over supper… step out and gaze at the sunset or the stars or the darkness… let go of the day, breathe deeply, dwell on and give thanks what was and is good as you go to sleep.
There’s always something to enjoy learning and wisdom has many ways. We might read a published volume for inspiration or the ‘big book’ of nature. We might study the ways of the heart or listen to the wisdom of the body. Study might be rational, or practical or wildly creative! Why not set a sacred intention to learn anew each day and then take a little time later to pause and reflect on what your learning has been? How about starting a ‘commonplace book’ where you collect thoughts, quotes, pictures, leaves etc that inspire or have meaning for you, either for you own nourishment or to exchange back and forth with a friend. Perhaps you could even look again at sacred writings, art and practices within your own or another spiritual tradition? Open your mind and heart and you might find hidden treasure!
Here are a few suggestions for explorations into the written word that might stir the soul of a Wild Monastic:
‘The Celtic Wheel of the Year’ – Tess Ward
‘The Mystic Heart’ and ‘A Monk in the World’ – Wayne Teasdale
‘The Healers Tree’ – Annie Heppenstall
‘New Monasticism’ – Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko
‘The Wisdom Way of Knowing’ – Cynthia Bourgeault
‘Spiritual Ecology’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
‘Cave, Refectory, Road’ – Ian Adams
‘Love Poems from God’ – Daniel Ladinsky
‘A New Monastic Handbook’ – Ian Mobsby and Mark Berry
‘New Celtic Monasticism For Everyday People’ – Ray Simpson
Each of us is engaged in some way with our own, unique inner and outer work. The latter brings us in touch with the world, it’s a way of loving, of giving a gift… especially if we can align our own sense of being and deeper values with what we do. Traditional monastics engage with some form of ethical ‘right livelihood’ that is both an expression of their own gifts and serves a greater need in their community and beyond. For Wild Monastics this includes our responsibility to the environment and deep ecology and could also include tithing time or income to environmental charities. Finding, creating and committing to meaningful work (whether paid or voluntary and at any stage of life) that can also serve our need to survive and thrive can be very challenging and is a work in its own right! Sometimes it involves us in both working within and questioning social and work conditions that may be difficult and even unjust and unhealthy. Sometimes we face inner wounds and struggles in our search to both express our gifts and contribute to the world. At a most basic level being embodied and being warmly present with what we already do is a true work.
Organisations that work to raise awareness and engage practically with environmental issues at a global and local level and could use our support include:
- The Wildlife Trusts
- Friends of the Earth
- The Soil Association
and many others…
Look also for local initiatives to get involved with. Here in the Dartington/Totnes area for example much of the local common ground is cared for by the Dartington & Sharpham Trusts and by the Church of England, all of which could use practical and financial support. Transition Town Totnes, Caring Town and Network of Wellbeing are engaged in many local projects and Parish Councils often need new members. Those involved with established churches could get involved with the national Eco Church and Living Churchyards schemes.
What would the forms of your ‘rhythm of life’ be and how might you recreate and recommit to your sacred intentions day by day, week by week, moon by moon, season by season?
Perhaps just start now with one, small sacred intention for today? Take a moment now to pause, breath & reflect on what this might be and begin…
Supporting Each Other
We may have good intentions but find it hard to put them into practice. Getting together and sharing with others can really help. All the work of Living Spirit, through Wild Church, Wild Monastics & the Wild Wisdom School is designed to offer different forms of support and ways of coming together for people seeking depth in how they live. Rev Sam and an unfolding and changing community of friends & collaborators offer a Facebook group, web resources and regular events. Feel free to join us!