Monastic Strategies: The Times They Are Changing

Monastic Strategies: The Times They Are Changing September 12, 2019

The Times They Are Changing

I appreciate the time I spend on retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage. It feels like time has a way of standing still there. It is not true, of course.

Life is changing at the hermitage in the same ways it changes everywhere else. People grow old and die. New people arrive and continue their exploration of spiritual life.

Many changes at the hermitage, though, are grounded in the history and traditions of Benedictine spirituality. Every time I have been there we gather at particular times each day to pray together.

Even as we immerse ourselves in the rhythms of life which reach back hundreds of years, the world is changing.

I sit or walk on my own and recognize how the times are changing. Remembering the first time I visited New Camaldoli and the people I have met there.

Even the things which seem to remain the same are changing all around us, and within us.

Some of us need to realize change is good. We try to hold onto the way things were, or feel they always have been. It is almost as if when we feel ourselves getting comfortable we know we need to begin changing.

Many of us fear change. We do not know what change will bring us and we do not know if we can control it, or ourselves.

Some of us are afraid we cannot do what we need to do to change. We may want to make changes in our lives but feel powerless to make them.

Some of us are not certain we can keep up with the ways our lives are changing. We fear we may be left behind.

What are the most significant changes we are facing in our lives today? How do we deal with change?

How Are We Changing?

Changing is a constant in our lives. Growing, learning, aging, forgetting; being alive means changing.

Change is particularly fast, and growing faster, for us. People are changing jobs and careers, changing addresses and relationships, changing spiritual traditions at faster rates.

Some of us mourn what change has taken from us. We may regret specific changes we have made or how we made them.

Some of our changes are pivotal, some are necessary. We try to prepare for significant changes, but are often caught by surprise.

Often changing requires us to make even more changes in response. Some of us need to learn new skills. Others of us need to set aside what we have learned or believed over a period of years.

We find changing risky or exhilarating. Some changes motivate or inspire us while some overwhelm and deflate us.

I recently made a change which I had anticipated but still caught me by surprise.

I went from a strong, stable working relationship with my Mac, which had flourished for 8 years, to working with a new laptop. It was a real challenge for me.

It felt like everything I learned about using a computer over the last few years was a waste of time. I was anxious, doubting I would ever be able to use this thing. Changing made me frustrated, angry, exhausted.

With some help, I began to realize it might not be the end of everything; things might eventually be even better than before.

Change, whether personal or organizational, can be threatening, frustrating, and lead us to doubt ourselves. We all need help staying connected to who we are as we navigate the changes in which we live. Things might even turn out to be better.

The world changes when we see it in new ways.

We Are Changing the World

I look out my window and can see the world changing around me. The first signs of autumn are beginning to push summer into the past.

Even at the hermitage where the world seems to stay the same, things change because we see them differently.

The monks I know put time and effort into appreciating the world in new ways. They struggle to recognize how to see how the world is changing.

It is easy for us to assume monastic life is about holding onto the past. We see monks living the way monks have lived for hundreds of years. They dress the same and seem to act the same as monks did centuries ago.

Monastic life is not about maintaining the ways we have always done things.

The monks who inspire me are explorers looking for new ways to experience the worlds around them and within them.

Spiritual life is not about preserving the past but about renewing our understanding. We are open to seeing the world around us and within us in new ways.

The world is changing because we see it differently. Each moment is an opportunity change the world.

Changing the Worlds Within Us

Some of us work hard to make changes in ourselves. Many of us set goals and put time and effort into bringing them to life.

We want to be better people, to unlock the potential we recognize within us.

For some of us, the changes we hope to see in ourselves and the world around us are about spiritual life. Like the monks at the hermitage, we are exploring how we relate to spiritual life.

Some of us try to explore what is within us by accumulating experiences. We think we discover who we are by visiting new places or trying new experiences.

Those changes can help us with our exploration. Another way to explore, to change the world by seeing it in new ways, is a more contemplative approach.

Sitting still and closing our eyes, breathing deeply, we are open to the presence and actions of spiritual life within us. Our relationship grows stronger as we give our permission for it to grow.

We are changing the worlds within us and around us by listening to stillness.

How are the times changing within us today?

What are the ways we will be changing the world this week?

[Image by Carl M]

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

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