For a long time, I’ve been aware that my habits with the internet and media are not always entirely healthy for me. For the last few years, when Lent comes around, what arises as a practice is almost always related to use of electronic media of varied sorts (the internet and social media, video games, etc.) And I have learned that regular breaks, sabbaths, as it were, are really important to my spiritual health, even though they can be uncomfortable sometimes. Now, every week, on Friday late afternoon, I turn off all my devices (because my kindle is most of my library, it gets a pass) for about 30 hours.
I just finished reading a very interesting work. It’s called the Philokalia, which is Greek for “Love of the good” (or the beautiful.) It is a compilation of writings of Eastern Orthodox monks and abbots, from the 4th and 5th century, written primarily for other monks about the monastic life. Many of the writings speak clearly about what the path to achieve stillness might involve. For example:
“Be like an astute business [person]: make stillness your criterion for testing the value of everything, and choose always what contributes to it.” (Evagrios the Solitary)
Many of these writers were not only monastics – they were ascetics, and advocated such things as fasts, vigils (not sleeping,) and sleeping on the floor and such. As an advocate of the middle way, I think that’s going too far, but I do think that we need to find those things in our life that get in the way. Like St. John Cassian said in the Philokalia:
“What was it, then, that made them stray from the straight path? In my opinion it was simply that they did not possess the grace of discrimination; for it is this virtue that teaches a [person] to walk along the royal road, swerving neither to the right through immoderate self-control, nor to the left through indifference and laxity.”
I am not a monk (and I could write a long essay about why that is) but a life of stillness, awareness, and openness to God in my every moment is the desire of my life. I don’t think its impossible to do for those of us that don’t get to just sit in our cells and pray all day, but like choosing a monastic life, it does require renunciation. It means we have to give up some things.
And what I give up may well be very different than what you need to give up. The most important question to ask is: “what keeps you from God?” What activity or habit do you use to escape from what you are feeling? What do you use to comfort yourself – not in an aware way, but in a way that just simply muffles the feelings under the soft blanket you’ve placed on them by doing a certain thing?
Those are the things to look at, to see what you could do to maybe give those a break for a while, and let yourself feel what’s happening, let yourself be still, and hear God’s still, small voice in your heart.