Are Monasteries Making a Comeback?
In the spring, I wrote about the "hermit-age," and this topic continues to be resonant for me, maybe because MEA might buy a former Catholic retreat center and chapel next to a Carmelite monastery in Santa Fe. Or perhaps because I recently visited Father Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation hermitage south of Albuquerque.
In fact, when I start feeling comfy traveling beyond North America again, on the top of my list will be a visit to the secular monastery Eremito in Italy.
Why are secular monasteries surfing the societal zeitgeist? I think there’s three key reasons:
1. #Wisdom is Trending, but Just Not on Twitter. With the constant barrage of messages thrust upon us by modern society, many of us are now seeking a "fast" from external communications. We know it’s time for more internal communication with ourselves. Less accumulating knowledge, more distilling wisdom. In addition, the fact that mindful practices like meditation and yoga are no longer tethered to religion means a broader array of people are seeking places where they can deepen their practice while toning down the distractions. You meet a lot of "Nones" in secular monasteries (as in "None of the Above" when you’re asked about which religion represents you).
2. A Less Linear Life. The three-stage, lock-step life, learn-earn-retire, has been replaced with a more episodic path in which gap years and sabbaticals are part of the popular lexicon, and they’re less likely to be given a demerit by a potential future employer. While still not for everyone, the idea of refueling and reimagining one’s life has become more of a mainstream concept. Heck, there’s even a new TV genre called "wellness horror," as evidenced by shows like "Nine Perfect Strangers" and "The White Lotus." In addition, transformational travel is considered one of the fastest-growing trends in the hospitality industry.
3. The Cure for a Sick Civilization. Political philosopher Hanzi Freinacht suggests, "Modernity did peer into the soul of individual human beings, under the auspices of psychiatry. But it never developed a full process for looking into its own existential foundations and to treat the maladies of civilization. As Foucault famously argued, modern society has been profoundly marked by 'the birth of the clinic.' Metamodern society and its existential civilization must usher in 'the rebirth of the monastery,' echoing and carefully recycling some of the finest aspects of medieval society." Check out his recent essay "Secular Monasteries for an Awakened Public." He writes about "existential social workers," maybe becoming a growing professional path for modern elders.