A Monastery of One

In the foreground, there is a lit platform and there is a robot kneeling on it with its hands folded in prayer. The robot slightly resembles a samurai warrior. In the background, there are large machines like a factory world, and in the farther background center there is a large building that looks like a shinto temple with golden light coming out of it

So I feel like I’ve been as up front as I can be about the fact that my mental health is kind of a mess at the moment, but lately it’s hit a breaking point. I’ve had too many days that I’ve shut down and haven’t been able to leave the house. Too many times I’ve woken up and had no clue why I should bother getting out of bed.

I’m seeing a doctor and a therapist, and I’m working to address the situation as completely as I can. But in the past few weeks, I’ve come to understand that the traditional definition of “mental health” fully encompasses my issue. While it’s true that I have diagnosed depression, along with a few other issues, and medication can help with that, I honestly don’t think a medication can solve the problem that I don’t feel like I have a reason to live. That’s a broader philosophical or theological question that’s going to take more work to explore.

So I’ve started working on this idea that I’m calling the “Monastery of One.” It started with the thought that my primary issue in the immediate sense is a lack of executive function. Basically, the part of my brain that makes decisions or just tells me to go do things has mostly shut down. Whether it’s a question of meds, talking through my depression, or just plain old burnout is hard to say, but the solution could be as simple as having someone just tell me what to do every five minutes. Initially, I looked into life coaching, but the truth is that’s extremely expensive, and I’m just not at a financial stage in life that I can afford to pay someone to do that. It’s a huge help for those who can, it just isn’t going to work for me.

So the short term solution I started with was thinking about a religious order. I’ve joked repeatedly in the past few months that I’ve been at a stage in life where I’d happily join a cult if one offered. In fact, I know at least one cult that would probably take me if I called them, just send someone to come pick me up and help me sell my house and everything I own. Give up my responsibilities and never make a decision again.

Of course, that won’t work because I narcissistically believe that no one is as morally superior as I am. There is no one on earth I’d trust enough to let them make my decisions, least of all any religious group. Just because I don’t want to make any decisions doesn’t mean I’m okay with letting someone else make them for me.

So I then considered that my ideal solution would be to join a religious order where some other version of me was in charge. Someone I could trust, but also would be willing to take over for me.

As I thought more and more about it, it struck me that the truth is I’m not always that burnt out. I have phases where I have more energy or focus, it’s just not usually at a time when I can easily put it to work. What I really need is a way to bank my executive function when I have some so that I can use it when I’m running low.

So that’s when I struck on the idea of a “monastery of one. ” I’m going to take the time when I have energy and decision making power to put together something like a spiritual rule one would follow in a monastic situation. So I started thinking about the Rule of St Benedict, the guide followed by Benedictine monastics for centuries. While I might have some differences with them at various points, it’s a useful structure to start with.

So I started a scattershot approach at first. Make a Google Drive folder to start throwing ideas in. This is the same approach I’ve taken with other major projects in the past, both successful ones and less so. There’s a folder in there for my Appalachian Trail journeys, but also one for every book idea I’ve come up with and failed at. With that in mind, I’ve decided to take a certain mindset with this. I am treating the “project” of addressing my mental health with all the same obsession I did when I went on an Appalachian Trail hike or when I announced I would go to Palestine to meet people living in occupied territory. This is just as important and life changing of a project. But I’m also entering it with a willingness to fail. I am going to follow this model for as long as it works, and if at any point it ceases to work I’ll drop it and try something else.

So in this folder, I started tossing various ideas. What vows would I take? What schedule should I follow? How do I make this rigorous enough to keep me going when I have no motivation but also flexible enough to bend with my wacky and weird schedule?

So here’s the plan in the short term. I’m going to continue this process and document as much as I am comfortable with here online. I have two more posts already planned, one on the “big board” that I’m using to organize this process, and another on the “vows” or the core values I think should be driving my life. Any questions you may have or suggestions would be appreciated. I’m also going to work on a reading list and post the books and my thoughts about them here.

I feel intimidated by the idea that my life needs fixing, but I’m also energized in a way that I haven’t been as I realize that I may actually have a way out. I’m tentatively excited, and I hope you find this as fascinating as I do!

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