Leading Like a Monk: Stopping to Check Our Directions


Stopping to Check Our Directions

Each year, in August, I stop to check my directions. I spend a few days in silent reflection at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. This is the first year in the last several I will not be visiting New Camaldoli.

Storms over the winter blocked access to New Camaldoli from both the north and the south. While one road did open earlier this month, I am not sure it is the road for a car like mine. I postponed my trip to New Camaldoli until next August. This week I will be driving to another monastery, connected to New Camaldoli, in San Luis Obispo.

I have not visited the Monastery of the Risen Christ before and am looking forward to it. It feels a little strange to be going to a backup monastery this year.

Monastic communities tend to be located in more remote areas and I hope I can find it.

Stopping to check my directions while driving has changed for me. I no longer need to pull over and focus on a paper map. Now I have the guidance and support of Siri to help me find my way.

Spending a few days in the stillness of a monastery is like the old school way of checking directions. My phone is not adjusting my directions on the fly, compensating for the turns I might miss.

Each year I come to see the ways I have gotten off track or started down another path. In the stillness I can hear how the next year is drawing me forward.

My challenge is setting aside what I do each day to see things from a new perspective. The new beginnings of each year grow from stopping to check our directions.

Releasing Our Grip on What Holds Us

As my practice of stopping to check directions has developed it has taken on a life of its own. Several months before I plan to go I start to realize how eager I am to leave. My body and spirit begin to anticipate the stillness and lean into it. I think about how I will spend my time, whether I will take anything to read or write.

With a full tank of gas I am ready to go.

My trip begins on the freeways of Southern California. As I drive I can feel tensions and anxieties begin to fall off my shoulders. The route has become familiar with recognizable landmarks. The freeways can be a good reminder to slow down, be patient, and relax.

Slowly, even my own expectations of what will happen begin to slip through my fingers.

Even as I practice relaxing my grip several ways each day, this annual trip matters. It is easy for justifications and bad habits to creep in and distract our daily practices. We try to pay attention to each moment but the past and the future try to draw us in.

Los Angeles and Burbank fall behind in my rear view mirror. My trip finds its rhythm and my concerns fall away.

In the car, Siri keeps me on track. In life, I contiue stopping to check directions.

It can be easy for us to ride the momentum we create for ourselves. We get comfortable with heading in the same direction. It is important for us to stop regularly and make sure we are going where we want to go.

As we relax our grip on the wheel to take a deep breath we can feel our freedom.

Finding Ways to Be Open and Receptive

Some of us find ourselves racing down the freeway unsure of where we are going. We are making good time, ahead of schedule, but need to be stopping to check our directions.

It may be a surprise to us when we realize we might not be going in the right direction. Our plan may have been clear to us for a long time. It may have been drawn up by someone else for us. We have always known where we were going and what we were doing. Suddenly, one day, we wonder whether we really want to do this. We may need to make some course corrections. It may be a road we are accustomed to traveling, but now we find it is under construction.

The drive to the monastery this week will be a good way to remember to relax my grip. While I am there my intention is to stop and check my directions. It is an excellent way to review what has happened since last year and look forward to next August.

It is not my intention to systematically review every goal I set and every action I have taken. I am more interested in sitting in stillness and listening to deeper truths than I hear most days.

My time this week is more about stopping than it is about memorizing the directions.

I do not know that I expect any dramatic, shocking revelations, though they could happen. Checking my directions grows out of being open and receptive in everyday life.

It is more about listening and openness than about checking off the boxes on a checklist.

Remembering Our True Direction

Our stopping and checking our directions is how we find and stay in touch with ourselves.

We recognize the true direction which resonates with us and remember to continue. Stopping and checking our directions every so often is how we find out if we are running true.

We live in a world which tempts and distracts us. It feels like finding our true direction is a difficult and complicated process for many of us. Even when we trust our own ability to navigate our lives it can be easy to get turned around.

Stopping and checking our directions is essential every so often. It is impossible for us to lead others if we cannot find our own way.

How often do you stop and check your directions?

Where are we trying to go?

[Image by cobaltfish]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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