Before I left the monastery, I timidly told Father Silouan that maybe God was sending me back to the world to spread the peace and love I’d encountered in their refreshing monastic refuge with the chaotic world outside. He quickly laughed at me, which activated a pride that had remained relatively dormant for the last few months, and said some words that stuck with me ever since:
“The world’s gonna eat you alive,” he said.
I’d never heard such pessimistic speech spill from his mouth before, so I received that as a tip-off to consider them with even more attention.
In my heart, I’d determined that I would prove him wrong. “No,” I said silently, “I will be filled with peace in the world and all those around me will benefit from it and be encouraged by it.”
What surprised me when I returned to Chicago was that a transcendent love and peace did remain with me. My ego had grown so accustomed to being silent that I felt as if I were floating through the busy city streets, unaffected by its noise. If anything, the cacophony of society was merely amusing to my zenned-out mind.
Why were people so busy? Why were they not more joyful to be alive? Why weren’t they noticing the sun, the birds, and each other?
Their collective mindlessness was bizarre and foreign to me.
All the while, however, I didn’t pity the madness in which humanity resides – I sincerely loved it all and dared to see its true nature. Whether wealthy or poor, alone or in a group, on a sidewalk or in a skyscraper, I saw souls longing to be free and loved and known.
But, Fr. Silouan’s words haunted me and I expected this crazy world would soon begin chomping me up. Of course, I knew that the world was capable of such destruction; it had devoured me before. In fact, I’d already lived a lot of years involved in an expertly maintained illusion that presents well enough to the world, but was void of love.
Surprisingly, it took months for my peace and love to fade, but it did eventually dissipate, like a sunset replaced by dark.
And it’s in this darker place that I now find myself, slightly saddened by my loss of pure perspective and light, but also longing for the transcendent selflessness that I’d known for those precious months in, and after, the desert.
Recently, a dear friend bought me a book called Shantaram. In it, there’s a discussion between two characters about the true nature of things, between what is real and what is a lie; illusion versus reality.
The wiser character talks about our essence being animated from something outside of ourselves (photons of light) and how nothing is possible apart from this life-giving source. The man with whom he is speaking challenges the claim by pointing to a number of things that he knows to be life – himself, others, the accomplishments of man as evidence of existence, etc., but the wise man says these are clever lies that we tell ourselves to help us cope with a reality that we can’t comprehend.
And here is the reality that he shares as being most real, but which we often dismiss as impossibilities:
“We can know God, for example, and we can know sadness. We can know dreams, and we can know love. But none of these are real, in our usual sense of things that exist in the world and seem real. We cannot weigh them, or measure their length, or find their basic parts in an atom smasher. Which is why they are possible.”
From this passage, and from my time at the monastery, I’ve concluded that the very things we deem impossible are the truest essence of a reality we long to know.
At the monastery, I tasted “impossible” life and then returned to the world of “possibility” with hopes that I could thrive in transcendent reality while engaged in the world of the ephemerally focused.
Sadly, Fr. Silouan was right. The world has eaten me alive. Impossible love is easy to abandon when presented with a list of logical “realities” and practical “possibilities”. And herein has been my struggle with this transition back to the “world”: do I surrender to the possible, or live for the impossible?
One way is bound to bring me hardship in this life, but provide me with a soul overflowing with love. The other way is bound to bring me acceptance and understanding for this brief time of life, but requires a dismissal of something I’ve known to be true, like walking away from a love that could’ve been.
I’ll admit that I wish I could be brave and choose the eternal route, but the world of what’s possible is constantly presented to me like an inescapable necessity that must be endured before reaching the other side.
Still, like the sky-dome glow of sunset, a hope flickers and makes me think that, maybe, if I present myself as a taste too foreign to consume, the world won’t eat me alive.