A Carmelite nun that has lived a contemplative life for more than 50 years shares her spiritual tips for those people who are struggling to cope with the restriction of freedom imposed by Covid 19.
Carmelites nuns are called to a way of life that is in many ways counter-cultural: to live quietly, against the background noise of the city; to live simply and sparingly in an increasingly wasteful age; to live hidden and unnoticed in a competitive society; above all, to live lovingly and generously in an aggressive and violent world.
2020 has been the year of unprecedented changes in our lives; An estimated 3 billion people have been in lockdown around the world. Freedom of movement has been replaced with confinement, commuting and business travel with smart working. Holidays have been cancelled. Non-essential shops, restaurants and bars shut down. Social distancing has been imposed.
The travel industry has proclaimed of being on the verge of collapse. Flights have been grounded. Millions of workers have been at risk of being laid off or furloughed. Conservative governments have been working in an unprecedented manner to provide financial support to businesses and individuals affected by the disastrous effects of Covid19.
People around the globe had to get used to a new way of life. While many of us have been suffering for years of FOMO – Fear of missing out – something described as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”, we now had to embrace a new opposite mantra: “Stay at Home”.
How each of us filters the perception of the “Stay at Home” message is hard to say. Our reactions are the product of our own circumstances. How big or small our houses are? Do we live alone and do we enjoy it or do we miss companionship? Do we have a big family and are we obliged to spend 24 hours with them? Do we have a sacred space for ourselves in our houses or do we feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to home school our children?
Do we have the tools to deal with an ongoing stream of negatives news, can we control our negative emotions, are we capable of listening to our feelings when we are so used to live in a world that never stops, and that is based so much on doing rather than feeling?
If we connect on social media, we are bombarded with webinars, online classes, zoom meetings.
But if we are going to go back to a simpler way of living, who if not the people that have chosen to live a spiritual life can teach us how to deal with our new self-confined existences?
The whole population is currently being required to live the kind of cloistered life that Carmelite nuns observe all the time. A Carmelite nun is someone that has renounced to the worldly pleasures to live a spiritual life inside a cloister, without interaction with the outside world.
So what can those who have embraced such a life by choice offer to those who have it imposed on them by necessity?
An anonymous sister that has spent over 50 years of her life as a cloistered nun at the Carmel of Most Holy Trinity Notting Hill in London shares her spiritual tips to deal with these difficult times.
- Create a daily routine
The first essential is to establish a regular schedule. It can initially seem boring to repeat the same pattern day after day, but you will find that when the rhythm becomes familiar it begins to flow swiftly and the days will pass more quickly than you can imagine. I have been living Carmelite, contemplative life for more than 50 years, following an unvarying timetable, and I have never known boredom or monotony. Rising and retiring at the same time every day is good practice for everyone. The body gets used to the rhythm and begins to recognise when it is time to sleep and time to wake. With regular times for meals and their preparation, the main outline of the day is already set. The intervals between should be filled in a balanced way.
- Mark out the time for different activities
Work – Housework, gardening, working from home, study.
Exercise, out of doors if you can.
Socialise – remotely.
Creative activity – art, music, handcraft… if you do not currently engage in any, now is the time to begin.
Quiet time – one period in the day, of at least 20 minutes, without any activity. If you are a person of faith this might be devoted to prayer, or it can be simply a time of reflection, pondering, remembering… call it awareness, mindfulness, simply being in the present moment, listening to the sounds around you, watching the movement of the skies. This is the most important element of the day.
Close the day with something enjoyable and relaxing – like reading or watching a film.
If you devote no more than 60-90 minutes to each activity, you will not get tired or bored.
- Give yourself some holiday time, mark special days with some celebration
Although a Carmelite horarium is unchanging, there is a different feel to Sundays and feast days. So give yourself some holiday time, when work is set aside, and there is more relaxation. Mark special days with some celebration. And don’t forget humour! We gave ourselves a homemade concert on St Patrick’s night with the comedy element included, inevitably, a toilet roll covered with shamrocks and a hand-washing ritual!
- Find meaning in this whole experience.
A Carmelite embraces cloistered life to support and safeguard the life of prayer to which she feels called. You need to know that there is a purpose in what you are doing. As Victor Frankl writes, in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how”. Of course, we all know the fundamental reason why we are being asked to ‘Stay Home’. It is to reduce the transmission of the Coronavirus, relieve pressure on our NHS, and to save lives. So, it is basically a loving thing to do for the sake of others, and we should keep this in mind. But perhaps you can begin to discern a further meaning. What might this experience be giving to you as well as asking of you? How might it change you as well as challenge you? Are you learning things about yourself, about life, about what is important? If you can find value in the present situation, it will begin to seem less an imposition and more a gift and opportunity you might otherwise never have had.
- Find new ways of relating to people from whom you are never apart
If you are sharing this time of self-isolation with others (there are eighteen of us in this monastery), you will have to find new ways of relating to people from whom you are never apart. It can be important then, to find spaces of true solitude, if that is possible, as well as learning to be more closely together, with all that this demands of tolerance and acceptance.
- Know that you are not alone
Although, as cloistered Carmelites, our contacts are limited, we keep in touch with all that is happening. The summary of the daily press briefing is printed out and pinned on the notice board for all the sisters to read. Our part in all this is to hold the world’s pain before God, and you may be sure that you are included in the embrace of our prayer.
Need more inspiration? Find other inspirational content here .
The anonymous sister has been a cloistered nun for over 50 years. She is part of the Carmel of Most Holy Trinity Notting Hill in London. This opinion piece was based on email conversations between Elisa Martinig and the Carmelite nun. It was edited for length and clarity.