My Year in a Carmelite Monastery: 5 Beautiful Lessons Laypeople Can Apply to Daily Life
What a beautiful testimony!
Cecilia Allen uses her blog and instagram account to share her experience as a postulant in a Carmelite monastery.
Through her blog, Cecilia hopes to carry Carmel’s beauty and spirituality into daily life.
She offers a brief background of her faith journey, “At 19 years old, I entered a Carmelite monastery. I was there only a few days short of a full year, when it became clear that I was being called elsewhere.”
“I loved everything about my time in Carmel…everything. Unfortunately, I struggled with the level of solitude, because I felt drawn to give and share with others more than I was able to there.”
Cecilia explains that her journey as a Carmelite isn’t exactly over:
“Although I left the cloister walls behind, I continue to carry and treasure the little cloister I have in my heart, where I will always be a little Carmelite.
“My sweet husband told me when we were dating to hold onto everything I had experienced and learned in Carmel, and to make it a part of our life together.”
Recently, she shared a profound list of specific things she learned at the monastery. This comprehensive list is perfect for the season of Lent.
Cecilia prefaces the list below saying, “These are five little things I learned in the monastery that can carry over into lay life. Simple little things, but so beneficial!
“They are all deeply woven into the whole lifestyle of monastic living, and therefore should be valued as key to the spiritual life. So, join me, as we turn our homes and families into little domestic models of monasteries, where souls are daily made closer to the likeness of Christ.”
5 Things I Learned at the Monastery That Can Be Applied to Life in the World
1) Holiness is found in one’s duties
Life in itself, dutifully lived, is sanctifying. We tend to measure our holiness by how much extra we do, and not by how well we fulfill what’s right in front of us. We yearn for great opportunities for virtue and solemn penances, but fail to see the holiness in things as simple as washing the dishes.
At the monastery, I really learned to soak in the moment at hand and fully give myself to the fulfillment of it, rather than trying to think of pious things to do. This may seem too gentle or too laid back, but the reality is that our greatest measure of sanctity is how we fulfill our state in life with all its accompanying duties, and then from there, we can add more.
2) The fruits of no technology
We did not have a television, nor were computers available for common use. We only had general access to a little CD player with a selection of classical and religious music for use on feast days and Sundays.
To be honest, I didn’t miss technology, media, and movies at all. And I soon saw throughout that year, the withdrawal from all the earthly distractions and noise had heightened my sensitivities.
When I listened to music, it pierced my heart all the deeper. I was quieter in my heart and easily focused on the beauties that the liturgy and the day’s prayer had brought me.
When I returned home from the monastery, I made a slow return to these things, reluctant to relinquish the quietness of mind and heart that I had in the cloister. We are so immersed in noise, movement, and a constant flood of images – it would do our souls so much good if we could set aside times to step back from them, and even completely limit their presence in our lives.
3) The noise of our surroundings
On a similar note, I quickly discovered within a few hours of being home how much I now perceived as clutter.
Even patterns, colors, and all the books on the shelves were overwhelming. This is not to say that color is bad or anything—but I never realized until after a year surrounded by the simplest of décor, how much the home setting can affect you.
In your day-to-day surroundings, you stop noticing little clutter areas, gathered nick knacks, or accumulated home items. Without realizing it, you can slip into “organized disorganization.”
I cannot encourage you enough to simplify your home. Not in a minimalistic, barren way, but in a way that embraces the beauty of each deliberately chosen item you place in your home. Less is so, so much more.
4) You can get up earlier than you think
Yes, I say this half in a lighthearted way, and half in earnest.
When I looked at the daily schedule of the monastery before I entered, I was a little dubious that I could get up at 4:45 every single day for the rest of my life. I jokingly insisted to my friends that when referring to my future monastic rising time, they say, “quarter to five” instead of “4:45” because it didn’t sound so early.
But in all seriousness, it was more than doable.
Yes, there were days that I didn’t want to get out of bed (especially in the winter!) Now, I am not saying everyone should get up super early – I am just saying that for us living in the world, getting up a little earlier for prayer, for a head start on the day, for quiet time for reading, is SO beneficial.
The brief sacrifice of pulling yourself out of bed is over by the time you wash up and get dressed. The rest of the day goes by so much better.
5) Holy Leisure
As centered as our monastery days were on daily rhythm of prayer and work, there were also short times of daily quiet leisure. Feast days entailed more rest time and a monthly “free” day was dedicated to individual pursuits.
While in the world, we can get so caught up in constantly doing things, in always working on something on our ever-growing to-do list, and even in making our “leisure time” more depleting than refreshing. We overwhelm ourselves with an even higher exposure to noise and commotion, out and about doing activities.
While such activities can be fun, they are not the leisure I speak of.
I speak of the quiet of moments spent taking a breath, going on a walk and soaking in the beauty of God’s creation, or listening to quiet music while browsing art pieces. We need more of these quiet moments of leisure—for our minds as much as our souls.
I cannot recommend highly enough setting aside just a little bit of time each day for such occupations of quiet restfulness. And besides this little bit of daily time, also set aside one day a month where all things unessential are let go of, and the soul is allowed to refresh itself in the quiet beauty of holy leisure.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!
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[See also: The Surprising Little-Known Story Behind St. Thérèse’s Famous Joan of Arc Photo]
[See also: Honoring St. Therese’s Beautiful Life: 24 Quotes to Inspire You in Her ‘Little Way’ to Sainthood]
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