Marsha Sinetar. Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics. New York: Paulist Press. (1986) 2007.
In this book, subtitled Lifestyles for Self-discovery, psychologist Marsha Sinetar shares interviews that she conducted with ordinary people who, in their search for wholeness, have “pulled away physically as well as perceptually from conventional life.” She categorizes these people as “monks” or “mystics”.
According to Sinetar, the monk is searching for social transcendence, for “emotional independence or detachment from societal influences.” It is “the person, who, due to an inner prompting, turns from the familiar, secure patterns of social custom, relationship and community life toward something altogether unknown.”
The “mystic”, on the other hand, is seeking self-transcendence, is longing for “continued or increased union with the other reality they themselves feel is the real reality—the reality which heals and makes all things new again.” This person is seeking to let go of “egoistic interests and practical, worldly matters… The mystic longs to know the Ultimate Reality as his own—both by direct experience and by personal relationship.”
If you are longing to lead a more solitary life, I highly recommend this book. I have included a few quotes from Sinetar, as well as from the monks and mystics that she interviewed, to tweak your interest.
Words of Marsha Sinetar ~
“The first thing that occurs is an awareness that something in one’s customary way of living doesn’t work, isn’t health-promoting, isn’t life-supporting. This initial awareness is experienced in various ways and at different times and isn’t unusual even in the general population. What is unusual is that socially transcendent individuals do something, alter their lives, as a result of their awareness, in such a way that furthers the development of the person they sense they could be.”
"Almost all in the study commented on the fact that although they had started their journey by drawing back into themselves, they found themselves growing back toward others in a more contributive, helping, supporting way."
“Once an individual has answered the vocational call, everything in life is absorbed with—perhaps I should say sacrificed to—this journey; everything is given up (if gradually, incrementally, and with resistance) in favor of meeting the requirements of the call. In other words, the person undertakes a radical reinterpretation of the day-to-day living, even—as we shall see-a radical reinterpretation of self.
Words from the monks~
“My work, as I see it now, is just to hear what the Self is, hear what it wants me to do. I would also say that a person’s growth in this way, the level of receptivity to the directives of one’s own being, is the most important contribution we can make to the world, because these directives are healing. ”
“I’ve simplified my life so that I’ll have time for the things I really want to do. I want time to think, to read, to walk more. I want time for rewarding encounters with others. Simplifying outer things lets me order my interior life.”
“My routine is stable. I don’t do anything that seems pointless or boring. I don’t waste money or time on things I don’t need. I’ve separated myself from the way other people do things in that I’m not a joiner.”
“I take time each day when my husband is away from the house to sit quietly….When he’s home, it’s still easy to spend time exactly as I want to: thinking, reading contemplating. He’s quiet too…My thoughts are usually on spiritual subjects now, not on community matters or on gossip.”
“I feel that a person who says ‘Yes’ to all requests becomes a scattered personality. I simply cannot serve those I would serve if I’m pulled in all directions at once so, what looks like selfishness to some is at the root a selfless thing.”
Words from the mystics~
“The one constant in my life, the one integrative desire, is my longing to connect with the unity of the universe. I guess you’d call that God. This is the one thing of value in my life, the thing that keeps me going.”
“To me everything has meaning because life is a spiritual journey. My task or purpose here is to rediscover my spirituality, my relationship to God, to Truth, to the Life force in all. I want to find my way back to my own connectedness and to grow in this Truth.”
“I’d have to say that my ‘inner program’ is to realize more of the unity of life and to share that with others. This drives me totally.”
“I have had many awareness experiences of transcendence. These have changed my life in that if felt I touched the depth of existence, the incredible. I’ve retained a sense of awe, as well as the knowledge that ‘It’ is there if I can learn to be open enough, trusting enough.”
A Book of Silence, by Sara Maitland. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009.
From the dust jacket
In her late forties, after a noisy upbringing as one of six children and an adulthood as a vocal feminist and mother, Sara Maitland found herself living alone in the country….Maitland describes how she set out to explore this new love, spending periods of silence in the Sinai desert, the Scottish hills, and a remote cottage on the Isle of Skye….Her story culminates in her building a hermitage on an isolated moor in Galloway.
Maitland finds her experiences both euphoric and dark, mirrored in the stories of others who have encountered silence—from explorers and mystics to long-distance sailors….She delves deep into the rich cultural history of silence, exploring its significance in fairy tale and myth, its importance to Western and Eastern religious traditions, and its use of psychoanalysis and artistic expression....She evokes a sense of peace that includes the reader in its intimate tranquility.
Selected quotes from the book
• It is quite hard in retrospect to remember which came first—the freedom of solitude or the energy of silence.
• I began to realize that it was not peace and contentment that I craved, but that awed response to certain phenomena of the ‘natural’ world in which words, and even normal emotional reaction, fail or rather step away from the experience and there is a silence that is powerful, harsh and essentially inhumane.
• I discovered in myself a longing for the sublime, for an environment that, rather than soothing me, offered some raw, challenging demands in exchange for grandeur and ineffability.
• I find praying difficult, challenging and very hard work, but I also find it necessary, surprisingly lovely and crucially important...It became, and remains, one of the central reasons why I went hunting for silence, and why I am now sitting in the sunshine looking down a long silent valley.
• Silence had already begun to teach me to listen and hear better, but now I also wanted it to help me to look and see better.
• You have to wait. This sense of waiting in silence became even more marked when I advanced to sitting in a hide or under a drystone wall and paying attention to nothing in the hope that it would at any moment become a bird, become something.
Ordinary People as Monks & Mystics.
A Book of Silence.