Monastic Strategies: Are We Hiding From the Real World?

Monastic Strategies: Are We Hiding From the Real World? February 13, 2020

Are We Hiding From the Real World?

Some of us believe people who live monastic lives are hiding from the real world.

They seem to think men and women who become monks and nuns are afraid of everyday life. I know people who view their lives as challenging while living in a monastery seems easier.

Some of us believe people are drawn to monastic life as a way to avoid temptations. We think about how wonderful it would be to live surrounded by stillness and contemplation.

If we made a retreat in a monastic community our days would be free of electronic distractions. We feel we could set aside the pressures and stresses of life in the rest of the world.

There would be no one setting deadlines for us or expecting us to be productive. We could escape the personal and political arguments of social media.

If we lived in a monastery we could ignore all our problems. Some of us see monastic life as a way to avoid needing to deal with all these challenges.

My experience and my friends in monastic life teach me to see things differently. I know people who believe it is us out here in the rest of the world who are hiding from what intimidates us.

We surround ourselves with electronic toys and controlled situations so we can avoid the challenges facing us. Distracting ourselves, we ignore what spiritual life has to tell us.

Some of us appear to go to great lengths so we do not need to look other people in the eyes. We become skilled at not seeing and not paying attention.

Are we like small children who, covering their eyes with their hands, believe they cannot be seen?

Hiding and Seeking

Many of the people I know who participate in monastic life describe it as opening their eyes. They are not trying to hide from or avoid everyday life. For them, monastic communities are opportunities to stop and take a good look.

It is easy for us to see the fast pace and busy nature of our lives as essential to our way of life. We assume progress has brought us to where we are and how we live, and will continue. Taking time to seek insights into deep questions feels like an interruption.

Some of us believe we need to face facts and embrace the speed and demands of “real” life. We may view people who choose monastic life with skepticism or suspicion.

People have described to me how their exploration of monastic life is more about seeking than about hiding. They were looking for something they did not find in everyday life in the world. Their seeking, along various paths, led them to look into monastic spirituality and life.

For some it began with a particular contemplative practice, or a specific book or movie, or a person. They often did not set out with an interest in monastic life, though their path took them there.

I meet people who use many diverse methods to avoid what they find in their everyday life. Some of them put all their time and effort into working or into their families. Other people pay focused attention to a particular sport or other hobby.

The people I know who participate in monastic life are often seeking something more. They have lived a particular way, following advice and expectations, and been disappointed.

Monastic life offers then a way to explore and discover what has been missing for them in other areas.

Hiding in Plain Sight

In my experience monastic life is more about seeking, or remembering, than about hiding.

It is as if we live in a dark house and are stumbling around in the darkness. When I run into a table or a bookcase I would like to think I was finding it, but I am really remembering.

We forget where things are not because it is dark, but because we do not pay attention. It can feel like we are reading or watching something on our phones, distracted from the way things are.

Monastic life is about paying attention. We stop allowing all the shiny objects to distract us for a moment or two. It is about spending time listening to the powerfully sacred stillness all around us, and within us.

We begin to listen and the stillness reveals itself to us.

There are deep spiritual truths in the stillness. They are not forcing themselves upon us. We need to pay attention to recognize them.

Many of us are more intentional about developing our physical skills, or our financial skills, than our spiritual skills. Some of us begin to practice paying attention and what is hiding in plain sight emerges for us to see.

No Reason to Be Hiding

Many of us appear to be hiding from spiritual life and we have no reason to hide.

Each of us discovers spiritual life for ourselves. Some of us begin to appreciate spiritual life with a flash of insight while our others it happens gradually everyday. We begin to recognize spiritual truths and learn how to pay attention.

Some of us hide behind a wall of distractions and expectations. We have been hurt in the past and hide because we do not want to be hurt again.

Exploring the truths of spiritual life is a lifelong adventure. We come out of hiding as we begin to experience spiritual life for ourselves.

There is no reason for us to be hiding. Spiritual life is not something we need to fear. It is neither boring nor intimidating. We cannot simply rely on what other people have told us, but need to explore spiritual life for ourselves.

It is not a question of who is hiding from real life. The question for each of us is how will we come out of hiding.

Are we hiding from the real world today?

What is our reason to be hiding this week?

[Image by Monika]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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