…. I don’t know if anyone ever sent you a question about boredom. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject…. I have a good life, a good marriage, and the kids are settled. My job has stopped, like everything else in this Covid age. I’m finding it hard to be at home all day every day. We must have seen every film on Netflix. Have you any ideas about how to cope better in these times? I feel there must be some better way than this…. Margaret
We are all living like Carthusians these times – but against our will. I’d love to talk with a real Carthusian monk and get some insight from him. He would be someone who willingly espoused this way of life. But of course they don’t socialise – they exercise extreme social distancing. So we have to find our own counsel.
I have found it very helpful to keep a structure in my day. Of course there is a structure in religious life (looser at present than in normal times), but within that, I keep a tighter structure of my own. I have always found it helpful to rise very early in the morning, and I keep that up. Then go for a fast-paced walk for about half an hour. Then meditate, or whatever it is you do in the early part of the day. These and other structures keep our life from falling apart.
Make a list of all the things you used to say you would love to do if you had the time. Some things, such as travel, you will have to cross off the list. But see what remains when you have eliminated all the things that are not possible at present. I've talked with someone who is learning to play the guitar, and to another who is learning Italian. We are blessed that the internet can deliver all sorts of help and inspiration. In no previous time of isolation was that possible. Write a story, compose a song, ring people, especially if you know they are alone or (worse) imprisoned with someone who gives them grief.
At present the readings at Mass are full of foreboding: it is always like this at the end of the year. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). It’s about a world coming to an end. It’s easy to sympathise with that at present. But think of it this way: the world is always coming to an end. It comes to an end every moment, and every moment a new world begins. This is the constant theme of people who teach us meditation. Live in the present moment, they tell us. Many people have a habit of living more in the past than in the present; and the ‘normal’ world around us is always pushing us into the future. Let’s go back to appreciating the only real time there is: the present time. This time of restriction – this Carthusian period in our life – can be the stimulus that drives us more deeply into meditation. Build a meditation session into your daily schedule. There are examples without number of people who came to great depth in difficult times – something that might never have happened in easier times.
To illustrate this: listen to the extraordinary Jeanne-Marie Guyon (d. 1717), who wrote: “How very narrow is the gate which leads to a life in God…! But when we have passed through it, what enlargement do we find!” In support she quoted Psalm 18: "God brought me forth into a large place." Think of a jet of water: it is because of the restriction that it has power. When there is no restriction there is ultimately just stagnant water. We won't be able to make peace with the restrictions of the present time until we want to thank God for them. When we see a person who has total freedom and no restrictions we often see nothing but stagnation.
When you look back in a year’s time, Margaret, this Covid period may well seem the most grace-filled time of your life.