It's time to become a monk.
Nope, I'm not kidding. A few months ago, I was formally invited to live in residence at a monastery for nine months. Yeah, really.
There are very few programs like this anywhere in the world. This program is by application and invitation only. Only a few people are invited to attend each year. I was deeply honored to be offered a spot.
I will not have to enter as a postulant (meaning I will not have to take formal vows), and the program exists only to provide a few people the opportunity to explore a season of discernment and spiritual direction. I will effectively get to live as a monk, without actually becoming a monk. Awesome.
When the invitation came, I knew immediately that I had to do it. On some levels, it scared the shit out of me, so I fought against it. After all, my original plan for the year was to grow my business and build an audience and make my mark and all of that, so I was both elated and terribly confused at the same time. Though it didn't take long for me to realize that wasn't really what I wanted, and I knew this opportunity wouldn't come along again. So I committed. I have absolutely no idea exactly where it will lead, but I do have a strong sense of what it will do not only for me and my mission, but for those I am called to serve.
This will radically alter the trajectory of my life. It will challenge me in ways that nothing else ever has, and provide an experience that very few people have the opportunity to undertake.
It will be brutally difficult at first. I will have one day off per week, but for the entirety of the other six days--from early morning until evening--I will live according to a Rule, just as the monks do. My days will be strictly regimented, beginning at 5AM and ending at 9PM.
Why am I doing this? Because monasticism has moved me in a way that very few experiences ever have. It will prepare me to enhance my mission, serve as one of the most beautiful, nourishing experiences I’ve ever had, and make me a better person. This will be the culmination of what will end up being a multi-year exploration of adversity, loss, fortitude, and resilience.
After all, if I had to sum up my purpose briefly, it would be this:
I'm here to tell the story of those in the shadows. Of those in grief, pain, adversity. Those who are marginalized, stuck, broken, with no good options. I exist to shine light on the dark places most of us don’t want to go. I do this via many mediums, but primarily through writing.
The reality is that I know I must become what I’ve been avoiding for some time: some sort of spiritual leader. I detest the title, just as I’m not a fan of guru, sage, and other similar presumptions. Yet words are what we have, and I know that I’m called to be a leader in a very specific sense. A thought leader? A spiritual counselor? A trust agent? Who knows. It’s not the title that matters, it’s the fact that it’s done for the benefit of others before myself.
This will clearly be a massive life change and turn in direction. Practically, this means the following:
I've been living in SE Asia since January, and I will continue traveling until I return to the US in July. My focus is already shifting away from from business and client building to writing, service, and audience growth. My days are becoming increasingly and intentionally challenging, and I’ll be doing all I can to aid as many people as possible in preparation for a monastic life. I’m fortunate in that so long as I continue to be frugal, I don’t need to make a lot of money right now. It is absolutely imperative that I use this time well; it’s not lost on me just how free I am to do as I choose.
I honestly don’t give a damn about being a superstar or making lots of money. I’m in a unique position, and what matters to me above all else is that I do what I am called to do. This means, primary, that I up the ante significantly as a writer. It's one of my strongest skills and I've no business not doing sharing my work. I’ve been enhancing my writing practice quietly over the past few months, intentionally not publishing much. That changes now. Further, it’s essential that I continue my physical training, that I live a highly regimented, disciplined life, and that I dramatically limit my options. This requires great sacrifice.
Concurrently, I must allow as much time as possible to connect with those who need me. This takes many forms: some client work, yes, but the offering of my wisdom and insight to those who need it, whether they can pay me or not. Thus I’ll be relentlessly focused on serving as many people as possible with low cost or free access to my time. I may not be able to do this again so freely, so I’m embracing it fully.
Is this bad for my business? Probably, but I don’t care. I care about unearthing my calling with a vengeance. Although I’ve made dramatic progress over the past year in unveiling who I really am, I’ve still found ways to hide. That must stop. I’ll still fail, but I feel an urgency and beauty in my circumstances I’ve never quite felt before.
The fact that I’ve accepted the monastic invitation is liberating, in that I feel--more than ever--a responsibility to speak my mind. Although I’ve been quite vulnerable and raw on my blog, I still camouflage myself--through lack of promotion and the avoidance of publishing work that might offend some people. No more.
I will deliberately offend or hurt no one; I cringe at the thought of writing hyperbolic headlines, creating false controversy in order to elicit a response, or engaging in many of the other spurious tactics so many people use to get attention.
Yet I’ve realized that I really do have quite a contrarian voice, that people need me, and that my writing and work speaks to people. Above all, I now know what I’ve been resisting for some time: there is no going back. The past few years have immeasurably changed me, and writing will be the primary conduit that pulls me into the future.
Now that I’ve spent several months in the writing/entrepreneurial space, I see how homogenized it is. How so many needs aren’t being met; how self-aggrandizing much of the culture is.
Granted, I love what I’m doing and I’ve connected with numerous people pursuing beautiful paths, much to my blessing and edification. Yet there is a darker side, an undercurrent, a subtext, that permeates this space in ways that most people don’t seem to want to talk about. I’ll be addressing this.
In short, I’ll be getting a lot more vocal. Not louder, but more vocal. There’s a difference.
We’re repeatedly showered with directives to find one’s purpose, be authentic, and all of that. Yet what so few people do is shine a light on just how difficult it really is. I intend to discuss this regularly.
Going against the grain sounds sexy, but trust me, it’s not. It’s often mundane, lonely, bewildering. Yet it’s also deeply fulfilling, majestic, implacable. Over the past few months, I’ve done more honest self-examination than I have in many years. I intentionally didn’t consult with a lot of people; choosing instead to trust my capacity for self-reliance. When I lived in Thailand, I sought out the locals, absorbing their stories and aspirations, and serving them in any way I could.
In so doing, here’s a sample of what I’ve had to embrace about myself: I detest indecision, having endless options, instant gratification. I’m not a big fan of being “spontaneous.” I abhor the dangers of junk food, addictive substances, meaningless sex, and what I refer to as “masturbatory commiseration”; i.e., any act that involves spending time with others for any purpose other than love, connection, or genuine enjoyment. In fact, one of the things I now try to ask myself before doing any activity or meeting any person is this: “is this masturbatory”? If it is, I move on immediately (well, most of the time). This is much, much easier said than done.
In my journey, I've found that I most enjoy my life when it’s constrained and intentional. This means I block out specific times for pleasure and mindless silliness. It’s just too easy to waste days, weeks, months, even years away on pursuits that are idiotic, harmful, and not congruent with your values. I simply can’t stand for that.
I’m very aware of my weaknesses. I am a smorgasbord of contradictions. I’m a deeply faithful but skeptical Christian. A feminist who lusts. A loner who longs for commitment. A lover of connection with a tendency to self-isolate. I must protect myself against these predispositions at all costs, and rise above them. These are battles that must be fought every day. You don’t just wake up one day and get over your vices. It doesn’t work like that.
There’s something about travel--about immersing yourself in a foreign land--that pierces you in a way I can’t quite describe. We’ve all heard the cliches about travel “broadening your horizons” and “challenging your assumptions.” It does do those things, yet at least for me, it’s done something far more important: it’s exposed parts of my soul I didn’t even know were there. It’s unveiled empathies and understandings I had forgotten about or ignored. And it’s engendered great adaptation and change; two fundamental components in what I will be embarking on later this year.
The fact is that I don’t need to “find myself”; I’m actually quite confident in who I am. Though I spent much of my adult life hiding behind a carefully constructed facade; much of which has fallen away over the past few years. I hope I am able to serve honorably moving forward.
This could not have happened without the support of my dear friends and readers. This is a phrase that’s tossed around endlessly, but honestly, there’s no way I could have done all of this without you. Some of you have pulled me up through the darkest hours of my life, which have been numerous. Yet I’ve persevered. No one perseveres alone.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. All my love, and let me know how I can help. I’ll be in touch again soon.