Learning from The Monastic Life

finding happiness
“Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps For A Fulfilling Life” is a 2008 book by Christopher Jamison. In the book Jamison discusses the modern error of equating external pleasures with happiness and argues that the interior world is the true source of happiness. Jamison challenges the reader to step back and be more contemplative, and to be still and look inwards. The teachings which Jamison presents are “based on those of the fourth-century desert fathers, founded by St Anthony and honed into shape by St Benedict, father of western monasticism”.

Christopher Jamison is Abbot of Worth, a Benedictine abbey in West Sussex, who became well-known through the BBC TV series The Monastery.”
finding happiness 2
“Whether Worth Abbey in Dorset — Jamison is its abbot — has been or will be affected by the credit crunch, I don’t know, but now seems an appropriate moment to take stock of spiritual rather than material matters. This jewel of a book was written last Easter, when life was still a bowl of cherries, not a financial maelstrom. You don’t have to be a Christian, by the way, to appreciate the sensible things that Father Christopher says about the truly important things in life and how we can attain them. All you need, he says, is an inquiring mind and a loving heart. I missed the BBC series The Monastery, set in Worth Abbey, but listening to the good abbot’s cool, clear delivery (he was a headmaster before he became a monk), I can see why it was so popular. His teachings are based on those of the fourth-century desert fathers, founded by St Anthony and honed into shape by St Benedict, father of western monasticism, which sounds a bit dusty but isn’t. Did you know that there were eight, not seven, deadly sins, the missing one being accidie, or apathy and inactivity in the practice of virtue? Maybe greed, as we are constantly being told, isn’t the root cause of the current financial meltdown; accidie sounds more like the culprit to me. And if you thought monks were too busy praying and making honey to keep abreast of modern life, think again. Father Christopher recommends you combat accidie with a podcast meditation. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/nov/08/finding-happiness-christopher-jamison

“Through his inspired decision to allow Worth Abbey to host the television series The Monastery, Christopher Jamison has become probably the best-known Benedictine in Britain. That series followed five men with little formal religious background as they briefly entered into the rhythm of monastic living. All were touched by the experience. It is Jamison’s conviction that the Rule of St Benedict and other writings of the great monastic founders have much to offer contemporary lay-people as they search for fulfilment in life. His first book, Finding Sanctuary, drew on what he and his community had learnt in the process of making the TV series. This second work, Finding Happiness, follows a similar format.
The Preface states the writer’s starting-point succinctly: “The simple idea running through the whole book is that happiness comes to us indirectly as the fruit of defeating the causes of our unhappiness.” The core of his work is then an analysis of the Eight Thoughts, which arise spontaneously but tend, if acted upon, to lead us away from all that makes for true human happiness. These thoughts were first categorised by Cassian, a fourth-century monk who was a bridge between the wisdom of the original monastic Desert Fathers (and Mothers), and Benedict and his successors. Pope Gregory the Great, two hundred years later, re-formulated the eight thoughts as the more familiar seven deadly sins, but two important elements were lost in this transformation. First, the Thoughts are not in themselves sinful. They draw us away from happiness, and thus should be resisted; but there is nothing culpable about them. Second, Gregory omitted one, acedia, from Cassian’s list. And in Jamison’s eyes, acedia is a key concept if we want to understand the spiritual state of much of the Western world today.
For acedia is the inclination to neglect spiritual realities, letting the cares, concerns and distractions of the everyday world fill my every waking moment. It can only be overcome by the kind of reflective self-awareness that our culture often regards as a waste of time. But without such reflection I will easily fall prey to the other Thoughts (listed here as gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sadness, vanity and pride). By contrast sustained awareness of what is going on within me greatly helps me to resist the pressure of the Thoughts, and allows me to practice instead the corresponding virtues which alone lead to happiness.
christopher jamison 3
This framework offers Jamison a way of commenting on many of the ills of contemporary society. Along the way he discovers many more similarities than might have been expected between the struggles faced by his own brothers trying to grow as good monks, and those of hard-working family members attempting to live with integrity. The mental discipline underlying chastity, for instance, is not so different in those practising the vows of celibacy and married couples. Likewise monks can be as tempted to acquire the latest electronic gadget as any teenager!
As one with a background in the spirituality of Ignatius Loyola, reading a book so deeply rooted in that of Benedict I was inevitably inclined, as the old examination question puts it, to “compare and contrast”. Jamison is suspicious of allowing yourself to be guided by your feelings in reaching important decisions. One chapter contrasts the experiences of feeling, knowing, and doing good, and of these feeling is very much the poor relation. Now he certainly recognises, with Ignatius, the need to sift through feelings, and that some are more to be trusted than others. And Ignatius wouldn’t dispute the idea that reflective living is a vital component of the moral quest. But overall perhaps Jamison has a greater confidence that understanding one’s thought processes will be largely enough to enable one to do the good thing.
Another contrast came from his belief that you best achieve happiness by defeating the causes of unhappiness. This leads him to devote the book almost entirely to a consideration of the negative thoughts that impede happiness. There is a tantalising glimpse in the final chapter of the Eight Virtues that contrast with the Thoughts (moderation to replace gluttony; chaste love instead of lust; generosity overcoming greed; gentleness not anger; gladness rather than sadness; spiritual awareness banishing acedia; magnanimity supplanting vanity; and pride yielding to humility). Ignatius advised always following the path of consolation, and I would have been delighted to read a fuller account of these positive virtues as the stepping-stones to happiness that Jamison believes them to be. Perhaps his next book will take up that challenge?
But a review should not dwell overlong on the book that wasn’t written. Overall the writer has produced a highly accessible guide to ways in which the monastic wisdom of the early Middle Ages is still relevant to anyone who wants to understand what happiness really is, and how it can be reached. It is the role of a Benedictine abbot to make the words of the Rule a living reality within his community. Here Christopher Jamison has fulfilled that role for a much wider community than that of the monks of Worth Abbey.

The reviewer, Paul Nicholson SJ, is Director of Novices at the Inter-Provincial Jesuit Novitiate in Harborne, Birmingham. He is also Editor of the spirituality review, The Way.”

Parts of the book are available to vread on-line at http://books.google.com.au/books?id=RtVDcZ_ZqEkC&pg=PT12&lpg=PT12&dq=Finding+Happiness:+Monastic+Steps+For+A+Fulfilling+Life&source=bl&ots=0gb3fdgxPL&sig=y6HulktZRsDeakow12P7l7NUHaI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_DbPUobmOMHniAe2n4CoDw&ved=0CEgQ6AEwBTgK#v=onepage&q=Finding%20Happiness%3A%20Monastic%20Steps%20For%20A%20Fulfilling%20Life&f=false

finding sanctuary
“Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life”
by Abbot Christopher Jamison [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006]

“The Monastery, a British television series, chronicled the lives of five men who lived at Worth Abbey in West Sussex, England, for forty days and forty nights. In Finding Sanctuary, Benedictine Abbot Jamison tells the story of their developing understanding and experience together. Through their tale, Jamison challenges the reader to deepen obedience to God and spiritual practice. Spiritual life, he tells us, begins with recognition of a call from God to listen and obey.
Jamison draws on history and stories of the desert fathers and mothers to trace the founding of monasteries in order to demonstrate the commitment of men and women who choose to follow God in a monastic setting. The struggles of monks living within a monastery are recognized in a very real way. The commitment to obedience does not automatically solve problems of daily life. Fifteen hundred years ago Saint Benedict developed a rule of obedience that addresses issues that arise when human beings strive to live together in community. Each chapter in Finding Sanctuary delineates a Benedictine rule or insight with explanation and challenge for an organized community, and each of us as individuals.
The Rule of Saint Benedict can be used as a guide to build a spiritual life in the every day world. Jamison likens our task to the building of a physical structure including a foundation, the floor, silence and meditation, the door of virtue, the ladder of humility, and the roof of community. The rule is thus a description of a way of life including a balance of work and prayer.
Jamison acknowledges that contemporary society has reached a point he describes as “spirituality shopping,” and has moved away from classic religion. He warns of this as he emphasizes the need for community and building relationships together. Safe space is necessary where one can experience good conversation with honesty.
From the question “how did I get this busy?” (p. 13) through the final chapter titled “Hope,” Jamison makes us aware of the importance of hearing God and obeying God in everyday living. He acknowledges it is not an easy journey but it is ultimately rewarding.
finding sanctuary 2
Each chapter ends with a conclusion and “further steps” which include Web sites and books for those wishing to expand their study and commitment to a specific rule. A bibliography is included for further perusal. Jamison concludes this book with a Lectio Divina process using the familiar Christian story of the prodigal son. The final four pages lead the reader through meditative questions, a response, and prayer. This exercise would be of value for individuals or group spiritual direction.”

See http://www.findingsanctuary.org/monastery.htm
“Christopher Jamison OSB is a Benedictine monk and former Abbot of Worth Abbey in West Sussex, England. He became well-known through the BBC TV series The Monastery. Jamison was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1951 as one of four siblings whose family moved to Buckinghamshire, England while he was a child. He went on to study at Downside School and later Oxford University where he attained a Bachelor’s degree in French and Spanish.
Jamison came into wider public awareness after his appearance in the BBC Two television documentary, The Monastery. The series charted the trials and tribulations of six men of varying levels of belief over a period of forty days and nights as they attempt the follow the monastic life. He also made the TV documentary The Big Silence in 2010, which follows several ordinary people as they explore the value and challenge of silent meditation.
Jamison has written two books: Finding Sanctuary: Monastic steps for Everyday Life and Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps For A Fulfilling Life as well as contributing to many others. He is also the president of the International Conference on Benedictine Education (ICBE) which facilitates dialogue between Benedictine secondary schools across the world.
Fr Christopher currently works as the Director for the National Office of Vocation.”
For an interview with Abbot Jamison on-line see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIi_NQ-e070
worth abbey
“The Abbey of Our Lady, Help of Christians, commonly known as Worth Abbey, is a community of Roman Catholic monks who follow the Rule of St Benedict near Turners Hill village, in West Sussex, England.”
worth abbey 2
See also http://www.worthabbey.net/flash_index.html
the monastery
The Monastery is a series of reality television programs originally made in the United Kingdom in 2005. The format involves a number of individuals, who are not necessarily religious, spending a period of time in a place of religious retreat. It has since been copied for UK sequels and in the United States and Australia. The Monastery won the Merit Award for Religious Programming in the Sandford St. Martin Trust Awards in 2006. The series was re-broadcast by other television networks.
The BBC commissioned follow-up series entitled The Monastery Revisited; The Convent, in which four women spent 40 days in a Convent of the Poor Clares. The US version, also called The Monastery, was made by the Discovery Channel and broadcast on TLC. It debuted on 22 October 2006 and aired on Sundays at 10:00 pm. In the first season, five men of various backgrounds who were facing personal crises volunteered to live at a Benedictine monastery, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico, for 40 days. ABC in Australia made a similar series, The Abbey, in which five women spent 33 days living the life of an enclosed Benedictine nun.[

The BBC production is available on-line in multiple parts beginning with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKTA1e2boSc
Silence in the City
Abbot Christopher Jamison, a Benedictine monk, believes that he can teach five ordinary people the value of silent meditation, so they can make it part of their everyday lives.
big silence 2
The BBC production of “The Big Silence” is available on-line in multiple parts beginning with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_zDtdYu3mA and at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/big-silence/

see also http://www.growingintosilence.com/


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