‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything’. This is a well known quotation in monastic circles. It is from the sayings of the Desert Fathers and is usually attributed to Abba Moses. Silence and solitude were essential tools for the Desert Fathers in their search for God and time spent in the cell allowed these tools to do their work.
In monastic life today the cell still holds an important place. Usually in monastic communities the cell is a private place, a place of solitude, a place where both inner and outer work can be done. Some monastic traditions place a particular emphasis on how the cell is to be furnished and how you might conduct yourself when you spend time there. It wasn’t until I had been in the monastery for about 15 years that I began to understand the importance of the cell as a place of sanctuary. I began to realise that the way in which I organised the space actually had an affect, for good or ill, on my well being. Though I wanted to be really tidy and have a place for everything, this was not really my reality.
Something changed for me one Lent when I was given a copy of Marie Kondo’s book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I read it fairly quickly and suddenly pennies started to drop. The message was quite simple: I have too much clutter! I was fascinated by her approach and her suggestion of starting to de-clutter with clothes first and finishing with keepsakes etc. Now you might be imagining that I would have very little in those two specific categories. As it happens, it’s fairly easy to accumulate things in a monastery. Marie Kondo’s method is radical in that she tells you to put every single item of clothing in a pile and to sort through it all. Her criterion as to whether or not you keep an item is whether it sparks JOY. It’s easy to parody her approach, but I find in it a deep seated monastic value.
One of the traditional goals of the monastic path is purity of heart and this entails decluttering on several levels. The whole process is intened to lead us to freedom and joy. We can begin this process by practising gratitide for what we have and the service that material objects have offered us. One of the big lessons that I have learnt from monastic life is the importance of appreciating a good thing when it comes along but trying not to hanker after it. As soon as you find yourself hankering then your heart it not free.
The decluttering process can take a very long time but asking yourself the question of whether or not something sparks JOY can begin right now!
Give Marie Kondo’s approach a try. I guarantee you will learn something about yourself.