Chronic Illness and Modern Monasticism

There is an interesting correlation between the modern monastic calling and chronic illness.  When I look at the community of women (and a few men) who have found their way to my offerings, it is uncanny how many of them are struggling with some sort of chronic, often debilitating, condition. It is also curious how many of these chronic conditions defy modern medicine – either eluding diagnosis or resisting treatment.  

Case in point. I have a long list of chronic conditions:  polycystic kidney disease, Epstein Barr, a form of PTSD, chronic vestibular neuritis, migraines, anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. This smorgasbord of intermittent symptoms has forced me to prioritize self-care and has removed me from “regular” employment. The capitalistic model of drive, strive, and achieve are no longer options for me. Neither is the 80 (or even 40) hour work week.

Privileging self-care confronts the western cultural paradigm, especially when the reason for self-care falls into the stigmatized category of chronic illness.

Our conditioned way of being (work hard and make money) no longer works for many who struggle with chronic illness (if it ever really did) and forces us to explore other ways of being..

The capitalistic model of drive, strive, achieve, and cajole, where success is measured by money, status, and power, simply does not work for those called to the contemplative life.  Furthermore, our world has become too loud, too bright, too violent, too divisive, too……everything…..for the sensitive, empathetic, and compassionate nature for those called to modern monastic living.

In this age, the monastic calling doesn’t present itself directly. Instead, it becomes apparent because all other options have failed.

There is nothing in our upbringing that prepares us for the possibility of a contemplative calling. Instead, we are forced to flail about in the darkness until we find what our souls have been seeking all along. Chronic illness is one of those conditions that helps us find our way. I have often wondered if the chronic conditions that many of us face are simply for the purpose of leading and supporting us in choosing the contemplative life and that this calling has become necessary in a world that has simply become too violent. It cannot be an accident that many of us who are called to a more monastic way of being are empaths, highly sensitive people, intuitives, and introverts. Perhaps we are here to show the world another way.

When the world has become out of harmony with itself, Love sends gentle and contemplative souls to bring the world back into alignment.

Perhaps we are those souls – sent to find a way to live in greater alignment with the truth of our Souls, while showing the world there is another way.

Excerpt from the Whispers from the Cave interactive web series. Learn more HERE.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has the “modern” world contributed to or caused your chronic illness?
  • How has self-care become more of a priority in your life?
  • How has chronic illness supported you in finding a gentler, more easeful way of living in the world?
  • What inner resources have awakened in you through your experience with chronic illness?

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