A cloister is traditionally an enclosed space, set aside for contemplation, study, safety, and renewal. It can be a solitary space or a space shared with a community such as a monastery or convent. Over the past four decades I have spent many weeks of retreat time in cloistered communities and I continue to be drawn to the refuge, nurture, and encouragement they provide.
I feel a need for this refuge because the culture that presents itself as my “reality” is extremely toxic, filled with anger and fear, manipulated by economics, and medicated by excess consumption, diversion, and distraction. I won’t survive, let alone thrive, if I continue to breathe this miasma. I must have a sanctuary.
I cannot live in a literal monastery, however I can build a refuge within my own heart, a “Cloister of My Heart,” that provides me a protected place of safety and sanctuary. This is not easily accomplished. My mind has been conditioned all of my life to believe the illusion that whatever is presented to me by culture and media is the truth, the “real” world. It is not. The truly Real world is a place of mindfulness, awareness, and compassion. A Cloister of the Heart provides a space where we can discover the Divine Nature of our being. From such a place, and only from such a place, are we able to effectively function in our world.
So, within my mind and heart I build a place of sanctuary and support that is protected, to the degree possible, from that which would sicken and destroy me. For me, this Cloister does not allow 99% of existing media to enter. Only carefully curated information is allowed and then only in very limited ways. This Cloister provides me with a collection of practices and activities that cultivate deeper Divine energies of peace, compassion, joy, and love within me. It excludes a multitude of practices and activities that cultivate fear, judgment, anger, envy, attachment, and addiction. It enables me to cultivate authentic and honest relationships and does not support toxic and abusive relationships. It encourages me to do work that is truly helpful and kind.
Certain guidelines and vows are part of literal monasteries and convents. I find that they are essential for my own Cloister of My Heart as well. Without them I easily fall into my old conditioned habits. These vows and guidelines are still in the formative stage, but I share them here in their current form as examples of my “Cloister of My Heart” precepts:
- I will refrain from all media that does not nurture grace, compassion, understanding, and universal love.
- I will refrain from all thought forms that spin into spirals of judgment, blame, fear, and anger.
- I will refrain from all conversations that do not convey grace, compassion, understanding and universal love.
- I will refrain from all toxic foods – physical, mental, and spiritual.
- I will refrain from all toxic environments – physical, mental, and spiritual.
- I will refrain from excess accumulation.
- I will refrain from any activity that brings harm.
- I will refrain from all untruths, subtle or overt.
- I will practice compassionate speech that brings clarity to relationships.
- I will practice compassionate use of literature, media, and other tools that bring hope, encouragement, and peace.
- I will practice compassionate self-discipline that encourages and does not punish.
- I will practice compassionate livelihood that leads to satisfaction, peace, and joy.
- I will practice compassionate actions in the world that bring healing and peace.
Following these guidelines leads me to specific disciplines, activities, and schedules. I won’t share them here because they are unique to my own situation. Suffice it to say that I try to make them flexible but structured enough to support me in forming new habits in accordance with my guidelines.
I am in the early days of establishing this Cloister of My Heart. I welcome your thoughts. Do you long for an entirely different way of living but assume it is, “unrealistic?” What if it is the only realistic way to live? What would it be like to commit ourselves to a virtual Cloister in which we find a community that offers sanctuary, safety, support, encouragement, and guidance? Ancient monasteries and convents kept alive the spark of learning and the light of faith through the Dark Ages. We are in a new Dark Age. What shall we do?
Let’s chat if you feel called to something completely outrageous that may just be the way to Life Itself.
4 thoughts on “Cloister of My Heart”
Hi Bill, What a lovely, timely post! As the new year started I have literally been sickened by the state of affairs. Though they affect me, I don’t want them to. I seem to be fine until I go back to work & have to engage in the madness of the world. I’m weary, though. I know not which way to turn. We wish to buy a farm & live out our days growing & harvesting what we can. Three of my four adult children seek a more soulful way of living than what is presented on job sites and what their contemporaries desire. How does one support themselves? How does one exit the culture? Yes, I long for an entirely different way of living, but fear I’m not strong enough, literally & figuratively. I watched the news for one day during the fires in southern Oregon in September 2020. I haven’t watched news since turning it off in 2012 after the Sandy Hook shootings. I couldn’t bear the sadness anymore! Does one do it as one giant leap away from their life or in incremental steps? Where does one go to do this? Questions, questions, questions! Out of the dark, must come the light! Christine
Sent from my iPad Christine
Yes, Christine, it is difficult. But the sanctuary we are seeking is within our own thoughts and heart. We do have to live, on the surface, in a culture that is toxic. But if we use our sacred imagination to create, mentally, a cloister whose gateways allow only that which nurtures and supports us, we can remain so much more centered and at peace. The outer stepping away from culture is one thing, and should be encouraged. Still, it is the inner stepping away that will sustain our compassion and peace. Ceasing to watch news is a good precept. Take a look at thought patterns that you might want to tell, “Sorry, you have to remain outside.” Then notice what conversations you might step away from, situations you decide to avoid. It is a step at a time, I think. Imagine we are in a virtual cloister where we support one another in our practice of peace and compassion.
Dear William, thanks for sharing this deep and wonderful.wisdom with us. I, like many I would guess, am also seeking refuge from the darkness and madness of these times. Your essay is very helpful.
Gosh, Bill, this is so helpful. Thank you for sharing your heart. I have so many of the same leanings and your sharing is very helpful. We have recently completed a backyard cloister to encourage deeper internal cloister and the photo you chose – while more secluded – is similar…it just felt good to see it. Thank you, my friend.