Monday, August 6, 2012
Un giorno nella vita monastica presso l'Art Monastery
“A day in the monastic life at the Art Monastery” is the English rendition of the title of this blog post. Also, though our schedule has changed since I composed this post two or three weeks ago, the events in this post remain accurate. And here they are:
At 08:45, whoever wants to meditate is welcome to sit for half an hour. We meet in the beautiful makeshift temple in the western quadrant of our property. The only potential difficulty in this daily spiritual activity is that I don’t sleep on this property; I live in the monastery, which, as I’ve described many a time, is located a 45-minute walk away (actually, at this point, I can make it in 40). I and my two room-mates walk, drive, or are picked at around 09:00 and driven to the communal house in order to arrive in time for breakfast, but I have recently decided to wake up early and leave by foot on my own by 08:00 in order to make it for morning meditation. That way, I’d also be guaranteed to sneak 45 minutes of rather rigorous physical activity in my day—to justify the consumption of Emma’s meals (see my previous post if you missed the droolworthy photos).
On the first morning of this new, exciting schedule, I discovered the single flaw in my plan: allowing exactly 45 minutes before meditation to walk to the house from the monastery does not account for the wiggle room necessary for chatting with farmers.
*** Word Nerd Alert!!! ***
I can’t help but think of my linguistics studies and Chomsky’s affirmation that human language offers the possibility to create infinite sentences out of finite means—infinite creative expressions out of finite words. Has something along the lines of “Note to self: leave the monastery early enough to fit in time to chat with farmers before morning meditation” ever been uttered? Probably not! Whoooooaaaaaaa.
*** End Word Nerdiness!!! ***
Where was I? Ah, yes: chattin’ up farmers. No, seriously, this is a normal part of my day. I noted in my previous post the cultural importance in the countryside of greeting anyone whose path you cross or who crosses your path (I tend to take this a step further by greetings all mammals—and butterflies).
Oh! Oh! Speaking of which—we had a goat sighting the other day, and three separate people on two separate occasions have seen or heard a wild boar. Dude—Pumbaas abound. In the country, if you look behind you at any point, it’s not to check if you’re being followed by a person; you’re checking to see if you’re being followed or hunted by wild boar, stray cats, guard dogs (shudder), or goats.
Anyway, yesterday morning, I left the monastery at 07:55. While listening to The Shins, I padded along through alternating patches of shade and sunlight down the hill and then started to march uphill at the precise halfway point of the hike. I paused on my path as I saw an unfamiliar dog sniffing the greenery ahead of me. “Please don’t notice me,” I pleaded silently, and the dog went on its merry way. As I turned the bend, the familiar dogs of our friendly farmer friend, Benito, trotted towards me to greet me—all four of them. I turned off my iPod in order to give my full attention to them, petting and cooing to them one at a time as their excited delight waned and the elderly Benito materialized in all his shirtless glory.
We spoke about the weather and the unfamiliar dog I’d seen, who, Benito said, is the playmate as well the father of one of his dogs. I told Benito that the apricots he’d given us the day prior were delicious, and I notified him of our having finished the wine we’d bought from him the previous week (€2/litre for red and white wine—say whaaat!). At a lull in our conversation, I expressed my delight and comfort in the company of his dogs, since they reminded me of Bijou the Dog, our family dog who passed away in 2010.
And then he introduced me to his kittens.
I had said that, when I moved back to Toronto, I would adopt a cat, because having a dog would require more time and work than my life as a PhD candidate and concert, poetry-slam, vegan-potluck, sangha–frequenting self could commit to. At that point, in an almost dramatic, ceremonial fashion, he opened a rusty gate to reveal a cat with a litter of three or four kittens huddled around it. They were only a few weeks old, he said, and I was besotted. He gathered one up into his weathered but gentle hands; still grasping my iPod in my left hand, I could only pet it with my right. The animal freak inside of me was freaking the frak out, squealing so loudly that I fail to recall whether Benito uttered anything to me in those brief moments.
These monastery-to-house walks are an unpredictable mixture of unbridled fright of barking canines and boundless charm of minuscule felines. My workday is bracketed eloquently by silent meditation in our roofless makeshift temple in the morning and peaceful Gregorian chant in this same temple, just shy of eleven p.m. Working hours contain a mixture of healthy anxiety related to making calls to Italians; laughter and thought-provoking conversation over meal-preparation, dish-washing, and delicious shared meals; pleasant but painstaking hours of research or translation, sprinkled with infallible Internet crashes; caring embraces and careful wisdom-sharing; and driving lessons—and no longer stalling the car on these mountainous roads (knock on wood)! I said it before, and I’ll say it again: living amongst the Art Monastery community is a delight and treasure for all of the senses.