Uncloistered thoughts

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I've often dreamed of joining a Trappist monastery. It's embarrassing because I'm not a Christian, and I don't plan to convert. I realize few monasteries would be willing to overlook this fact, but I've always thought I'd make a fine monk, especially if they'd allow me to live in a hermitage. The idea of being alone in a small hut where I could live a contemplative life appeals to me these days. I've been sensing of late that most of what needs to be said on this planet has already been said, and what needs to be written has been written. The artwork produced over the eons seems sufficient, and the technology has advanced about as far as need be. This would be a reasonable time, I feel, to sit it out for a few years.

But changing careers is difficult. You get going on a certain trajectory early in adulthood and, after a while, the forces you activate just seem to take on a life all their own. It isn't long before you feel you're being guided by all you set in motion, and imploding it for the sake of adventure carries with it the renegade fallout of irresponsibility.

Nevertheless, I just read an article this week about a famous kung fu artist in China who is throwing in the towel (or belt) and becoming a nun. For 30 years she's traveled her native country, giving extraordinary strength and endurance demonstrations, but she now feels it's time to move in a new direction. Word is she's shaving her long locks and joining the Buddhists. This has had the effect of firing up my dormant internal coals, and I'm warming again to the idea of change. Not subtle change, mind you, radical change, like when one goes from drunken atheist bar brawler to Amish school principal, from grizzled longshoreman to New Age life coach—the kind of change that throws them a curveball at high school reunions.

I've not known that kind of sweeping transformation in my life. I've only witnessed it in others. I knew a career CPA who moved out west to become a paid phone psychic, and I once met an exotic dancer-turned-high school math teacher. It must be refreshing to make such shifts, giving one the sensation, perhaps, of living two lifetimes in one.

When I lost my last job I took all the music I'd been listening to for years and threw it in a dumpster. I also took all the clothes in my closet and tossed them in a backyard fire pit. It was wasteful, messy, and childish, but it gave me the sensation of becoming someone else. I wanted to kill off the old me with the old career, and that meant assassinating some accoutrements.

Did it work? No. I emerged the exact same person I was before, only now in need of a wardrobe. Turns out I just pay lip service to radical change but don't actually have it in me. I envy those who make grand conversions, who shed a skin and walk from one world into another, but ultimately, I don't have the stomach for it myself.

When I was a teenager, a buddy of mine, whose only ambition, as far as I knew, was to roll joints and rent Marx Brothers films, abruptly announced he'd joined the Marine Corps. Within a week he was gone. I saw him three years later, and he might as well have paid the dough to change his first and last name because the guy I used to hang out with was dead. He'd killed him. I grieved the loss but admired the leap. What in the DNA triggers the push for such a metamorphosis?

These road-to-Damascus turns intrigue me. If we live long enough, most of us meet a few people who go through them. It's often tumultuous, and tends to burn a bridge or two, but those who emerge on the other side often seem more content than they were before, even if their friends or family are not.

I know that, for me, any internal alchemy is destined to be the slow, meandering type—evolution at Darwinian speed. But that's all right. I can still lie in bed at night and fantasize, imagining myself in those thick monastic robes, staring at my small cot and wooden reading chair, looking out the lone window of my hermitage, wondering what the exact rules are on taking a stroll into town to get a beer and shoot some pool. 

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