Monk-ing Around

The “Good” Life?

What do you know about monks? Yea, me too. But I do have a story about a man who wanted to become a monk. So here it goes. There was this guy, he wanted to be a monk. So he did what people do when they want to become a monk. He went to a monastery. So he gets to this monastery ( let’s just agree that he lived near a monastery, probably how he heard about this whole monk thing in the first place) and he asks to speak to the abbot (that’s a guy that is in charge of a monastery). He is permitted to meet with the abbot and tells the abbot about his dream, to become a monk. The abbot is skeptical, he has heard this before over his many years of monking (I don’t know if that’s a thing) and he wants to make sure the man understands that it is not easy being a monk. He gives the man the worst news right up front. “You can only speak 2 words every ten years once you take your vow”. The man is undeterred, he is ready to do this monk thing and he signs up (full disclosure, I don’t know if you have to sign up to be a monk, or really any of the things you really have to do to be a monk, but for the purpose of our story, he signed up). So ten years go by and the man is asked for his 2 words and he says “bed’s hard”. Ten more years pass and they ask for his 2 words and he says “food’s bad”. Finally ten more years (it’s been 30 years at this point, that is a lot of invested time) and he is asked for his 2 words. He answers “I quit”. The abbot says without hesitation, “I’m not surprised, all you’ve done is complain since you got here”. Ba dump bump, (cymbal sound).

Keeping It Real

What’s the point you ask? Well there is a lesson here about expectations. If you are going to be a monk, maybe you should know what that means. You should figure out what the life you are signing up for will demand of you. Monks are not known for their accommodations or their cuisine, so maybe he should have expected hard beds and less than stellar dining. I mean, if he wanted to be a monk, what exactly was he looking for? What is it that appealed to him? Sometimes we focus on one singular desirable piece of a choice without recognizing other aspects of that choice. Maybe he idealized the quiet, stress free life of monks without recognizing what it would cost him. Maybe the lack of conversation was what appealed to him, maybe he liked being left alone, but wanted his solace in a five star hotel. In any case, his expectations did not match reality and he wasted a lot of time complaining about what he didn’t like without doing anything about it.

Choices = Consequences

So what can we take away from this? First of all, this story explains the waning art of monkery (again, not sure if this is a word). It’s hard. But more than that the story illustrates that we need to have realistic expectations about the consequences of the choices we make. If hard beds, bland food, and very minimal conversation is not what you are looking for, maybe monking is not for you. One thing is for certain, if you join a monastery, they are unlikely to change their way of life to accommodate you. The peace and quiet, the simple life and the discomfort and self-denial are a package deal. The same is true of life in general. Consequences are often immutable, if you step off the edge, gravity will pull you down. If you become a monk, comfort is not your primary concern. What are you choosing that you hope will make you happy, but is leaving you continually disappointed? Are your expectations realistic, or are you hoping that your monastery suddenly becomes a Hilton? If you are, do yourself a favor and stop monk-ing around.

****Disclaimer: For all I know monks nowadays have 5 star accommodations, great food, and very comfortable beds. I do not want to limit monk recruitment by maligning the monk lifestyle as austere and difficult. But you get the point, this particular monk order is really gung ho about cliché TV and movie monk habits and they like to do things the old fashioned way. Also they are pretend.