Who were the Desert Fathers ?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2018 by citydesert

Who were the Desert Fathers and why do they matter? Their influence can be seen throughout the Church and is even found in popular culture.

On his recent trip to Egypt, Pope Francis urged priests and religious to “draw upon to the example of Saint Paul the Hermit, Saint Anthony, the holy Desert Fathers, and the countless monks and nuns who by their lives and example opened the gates of heaven to so many of our brothers and sisters.” These names are well known to the Egyptian people, but to the Western ear, the saints mentioned by the Holy Father are rather unknown.

Who were these “Desert Fathers”?

During the late 3rd century a Christian man named Paul, living in the city of Thebes, Egypt, was forced into the desert during the persecution of Emperor Decius. While there he lived in a cave and was waiting for the persecution to end. In the process Paul discovered that he enjoyed the solitude and freedom to fast and pray. He embraced life in the desert and lived in that cave for many more decades as a hermit dedicated to the worship of God.

paul of thebes

Near the end of Saint Paul’s life another man in Egypt named Anthony was inspired by the Gospel to give up his possessions and serve God alone. His experience is related in the famous Life of Anthony written by Saint Athanasius. The book recounts how during Mass one day, “the Gospel was being read, and [Anthony] heard the Lord saying to the rich man [Matthew 19:21], ‘If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor; and come follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven.’” Anthony believed the words were aimed directly at him and so, immediately following Mass, he sold all of his possessions and sought to do God’s will.

Around this time Anthony heard about Paul the Hermit and went to visit him in the seclusion of the mountains. Anthony was inspired by his way of life and was convinced that God was also calling him to become a hermit in the wilderness.

Anthony the great

Anthony dedicated the remainder of his life to fasting and prayer, living a life of poverty for the glory of God. His holiness became widely known and, during the persecution of Diocletian, Christians became attracted to the desert as a way of escaping the world and living a private Christian life. Anthony’s life and wisdom inspired numerous men and women to give up their worldly ambitions and live in solitude worshiping God. Monasteries developed over time and spread throughout Egypt. A rule of life was formed and other holy men and women began to take up the call to the desert.

Among the early saints who developed this way of life and are considered part of the Desert Fathers were Saint Pachomius, Saint Amun, Saint Basil of Caesarea, Saint Macarius of Egypt, and Saint Moses the Black. Those who were highly influenced by this early monasticism were Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Hilarion and Saint John Cassian. Saint Benedict later developed his own rule of monasticism based on the writings of these early Desert Fathers. As a result, most modern-day religious orders can trace their spiritual lineage to Egypt.


Saint John Cassian was the one responsible for bringing the wisdom of the Desert Fathers to Europe and at the time his influence reached as far as Ireland. This is when Ireland’s own version of monasticism developed, essentially based on the writings of Cassian and example of Saint Anthony. It was this desert monasticism that influenced monks in the 7th century to sail off the coast of Ireland to the remote island of Skellig Michael, forming a monastery of bee-hive huts that have been brought to life again in the latest Star Wars movies.

While most Catholics may not be familiar with the writings of the Desert Fathers, their influence can be felt throughout the world. They call us to a radical form of Christian living that features fasting, penance and silence. In a world filled with numerous earthly temptations and such great noise, the Desert Fathers are a beacon of light calling us to live differently.

Even though we may not be called to give up all our possessions and live in the desert, the Desert Fathers challenge us to make our own daily sacrifices, live more simply, and dedicate time each day for prayer and silence.

From: Philip Kosloski “Who were the Desert Fathers and why do they matter?” Aleteia Sunday 18 March Full text available on-line at:  https://aleteia.org/2017/05/09/who-were-the-desert-fathers-and-why-do-they-matter/



Vegan Jews

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2018 by citydesert

Most early Hermits lived on a vegan diet.

Here is a very interesting account of an increasing adoption of a vegan diet as kosher food in the Jewish community:

“Vegan food is, by most accounts, naturally kosher so is seen as a safe food choice for many.

A growing religious zeal for veganism has been further fostered by rabbis who question whether the faithful should eat animals at all.

There’s a wildcard option that some Israeli Jews have started using when they can’t find a restaurant with a kosher certificate: vegan food.

Jewish vegan photo

Fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are, by most accounts, naturally kosher and as the mixing of dairy and meat is forbidden in Judaism, a safe choice is to eat somewhere that avoids both.

A growing religious zeal for veganism has been further fostered by rabbis who question whether the faithful should eat animals at all, especially under modern farming methods considered inhumane. Animal abuse is explicitly forbidden in the Bible.

“The world has changed. We don’t have a choice. We must become vegan,” says religious scholar, Asa Keisar, a figurehead of the campaign for Jewish veganism. “There is no kosher meat at all.”

Israel’s vegan movement has found that alongside its mostly secular, progressive base, members from more pious sections of society are also joining its ranks, and making the country one of the easiest places to be vegan.

In September, more than 70 rabbis from around the world signed a declaration urging Jews to choose veganism, saying it was a contradiction to claim that products made “through a process that involves inordinate cruelty and barbarity toward animal life can truly be considered kosher in our world”.

“The garden of Eden, which was the ideal society, was a vegetarian society. Adam and Eve were vegans,” Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, said in the statement.

Jewish vegan 2

From a tiny faction of outliers just five years ago, Israeli vegans now say they make up 5% of the country’s population, a higher percentage than anywhere else in the world.

An estimated 500 restaurants are vegan or have substantial plant-based dishes on their menus. Tel Aviv is often referred to as the world’s “vegan capital” while Domino’s’ Israel branch was the first to sell animal-product-free pizza. Most coffee chains have vegan options.

“Veganism is almost mainstream,” said Ori Shavit, a consultant for Israeli restaurants hoping to cater for the growing camp.

Ideas spread fast in a country of 8 million. Judaism has helped too, she says, because the kosher diet means Jews, even many secular ones, have a culture of checking what is in their food.

“Even if I’m not keeping kosher, I know what it means, and I know how to keep kosher. We are used to looking at the label; we’re used to separating dairy from meat,” she said. “It’s the idea of not eating automatically. This is something that is very helpful when you come to embrace the vegan diet.”…

Practising Jews are becoming increasingly aware of veganism, Shavit says. She recently ran a pop-up restaurant that had no official kosher certificate but would often see Jews wearing skullcaps – usually signifying that they’re Orthodox – eating there.

Keisar wants to see more people becoming vegan for religious reasons. He has lectured in synagogues around the country and hung posters promoting veganism in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods.

He argues that Jewish teaching imposed so many onerous rules on meat consumption because the intent is to stop the practice altogether.

“The Torah, the Bible, does not want people to eat meat … we have maybe a thousand rules about meat in Judaism,” he said.

Jewish vegans 3

Jewish law provides detailed instructions on how animals should be kept and slaughtered, down to the precise motion of the knife during the killing. It’s forbidden to slaughter an animal in front of another, such as is practice in many poultry farms. Consuming blood is prohibited. And certain parts of animals are not kosher, including parts of the fat and the sciatic nerve. Many Jews won’t eat a sirloin steak because of its proximity to that nerve.

When you cannot keep these rules, and Keisar says nobody can, you have one option left: veganism.”

From: Oliver Holmes  “’There is no kosher meat’: the Israelis full of zeal for going vegan” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/17/there-is-no-kosher-meat-the-israelis-full-of-zeal-for-going-vegan

See also: https://www.jewishveg.org/schwartz/dietlaws.html



Nicholas of Pskov

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15, 2018 by citydesert

March 13 is the Commemoration of Blessed Nicholas of Pskov, Fool-for-Christ

Nicholas Pskov 2

“Blessed Nicholas of Pskov lived the life of a holy fool for more than three decades. Long before his death he acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit and was granted the gifts of wonderworking and of prophecy. The Pskov people of his time called him Mikula [Mikola, Nikola] the Fool. Even during his lifetime they revered him as a saint, even calling him Mikula the saintly.

In February 1570, after a devastating campaign against Novgorod, Tsar Ivan the Terrible moved against Pskov, suspecting the inhabitants of treason. As the Pskov Chronicler relates, “the Tsar came … with great fierceness, like a roaring lion, to tear apart innocent people and to shed much blood.”

On the first Saturday of Great Lent, the whole city prayed to be delivered from the Tsar’s wrath. Hearing the peal of the bell for Matins in Pskov, the Tsar’s heart was softened when he read the inscription on the fifteenth century wonderworking Liubyatov Tenderness Icon of the Mother of God (March 19) in the Monastery of Saint Nicholas (the Tsar’s army was at Lubyatov). “Be tender of heart,” he said to his soldiers. “Blunt your swords upon the stones, and let there be an end to killing.”

All the inhabitants of Pskov came out upon the streets, and each family knelt at the gate of their house, bearing bread and salt to the meet the Tsar. On one of the streets Blessed Nicholas ran toward the Tsar astride a stick as though riding a horse, and cried out: “Ivanushko, Ivanushko, eat our bread and salt, and not Christian blood.”

The Tsar gave orders to capture the holy fool, but he disappeared.

Though he had forbidden his men to kill, Ivan still intended to sack the city. The Tsar attended a Molieben at the Trinity cathedral, and he venerated the relics of holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel (February 11), and expressed his wish to receive the blessing of the holy fool Nicholas. The saint instructed the Tsar “by many terrible sayings,” to stop the killing and not to plunder the holy churches of God. But Ivan did not heed him and gave orders to remove the bell from the Trinity cathedral. Then, as the saint prophesied, the Tsar’s finest horse fell dead.

The blessed one invited the Tsar to visit his cell under the bell tower. When the Tsar arrived at the cell of the saint, he said, “Hush, come in and have a drink of water from us, there is no reason you should shun it.” Then the holy fool offered the Tsar a piece of raw meat.

“I am a Christian and do not eat meat during Lent”, said Ivan to him. “But you drink human blood,” the saint replied.

Frightened by the fulfillment of the saint’s prophecy and denounced for his wicked deeds, Ivan the Terrible ordered a stop to the looting and fled from the city. The Oprichniki, witnessing this, wrote: “The mighty tyrant … departed beaten and shamed, driven off as though by an enemy. Thus did a worthless beggar terrify and drive off the Tsar with his multitude of a thousand soldiers.”

Blessed Nicholas died on February 28, 1576 and was buried in the Trinity cathedral of the city he had saved. Such honors were granted only to the Pskov princes, and later on, to bishops.

Nicholas Pskov

The local veneration of the saint began five years after his death. In the year 1581, during a siege of Pskov by the soldiers of the Polish king Stephen Bathory, the Mother of God appeared to the blacksmith Dorotheus together with a number of Pskov saints praying for the city. Among these was Blessed Nicholas (the account about the Pskov-Protection Icon of the Mother of God is found under October 1).

At the Trinity cathedral they still venerate the relics of Blessed Nicholas of Pskov, who was “a holy fool in the flesh, and by assuming this holy folly he became a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem” (Troparion). He also “transformed the Tsar’s wild thoughts into mercy” (Kontakion).”

From: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2009/02/28/100616-blessed-nicholas-salos-of-pskov-the-fool-for-christ

See: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/101431.html


Three-Hundred Sayings

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2018 by citydesert

Three-Hundred Sayings of the Ascetics of the Orthodox Church Compiled by Fr George Maksimov, Russian Orthodox Mission Society of Saint Serapion Kozheozersky, Moscow, 2012

300 Sayings cover

“The book that you are holding in your hands has been compiled in order to enable the reader to touch the spiritual experience of the Christian East. Collected here are three-hundred sayings of over fifty Orthodox saints from Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Georgia. Since the Western Church was part of the family of Orthodox Churches for the first thousand years after the birth of Christ, you may also find in our compilation the sayings of saints who lived in the territory of contemporary Italy, England, France, and Tunis. All of this is part of the spiritual inheritance of the Orthodox Church.

The earliest of these sayings was written in the second half of the first century. The most recent was written in the second half of the twentieth century. No matter where they lived, when they lived, or who they were, the Orthodox Saints speak of a single spiritual reality, and therefore their sayings harmoniously compliment one another. In the nineteenth century, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov made this observation: “When on a clear fall night I gaze upon the clear heavens, illumined by innumerable stars that send out a single light, then I say to myself: thus are the writings of the holy fathers. When on a summer’s day I gaze upon the wide sea, covered with a multitude of distinct waves, driven by a single wind to a single end, a single pier, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the fathers. When I hear a well-ordered choir, in which different voices sing a single hymn in shimmering harmony, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the fathers.””

The text of this work is available on-line at: http://orthodox.cn/patristics/300sayings_en.htm

300 Sayings extract

Extracts from The Sayings:

A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breath with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the name of God. He who regulates all of his speech also regulates all of his actions. He who keeps watch over the words he is about say also keeps watch over the deeds he intends to do, and he never goes out of the bounds good and benevolent conduct. The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy. On the other hand, boorishness gives birth to hatred, enmity, affliction, competitiveness, disorder and wars.
(St. Nektarius of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 7)

Whoever will not love his enemies cannot know the Lord and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our enemies in such way that we pity their souls as if they were our own children.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, I.11)

Fasting, prayer, alms, and every other good Christian deed is good in itself, but the purpose of the Christian life consists not only in the fulfillment of one or another of them. The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. But fasting, prayer, alms and every good deed done for the sake of Christ is a means to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. Note that only good deeds done for the sake of Christ bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Everything else that is not done for the sake of Christ, even if it is good, does not bring us a reward in the life to come, not does it bring the grace of God in this life. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Whoever gathereth not with me scattereth” (Matt. 12:30).
(St. Seraphim of Sarov, Conversation on the Goal of the Christian Life)


Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2018 by citydesert

“As I write this, I’m sitting on the back porch of the rural Vermont homestead I share with my husband and our daughter, gazing out on the 66 acres of forest, fruit trees, gardens, ponds, and streams that we feel incredibly lucky to call our own.

Just a few years ago, this seemed like an impossible feat. My husband and I were struggling to conceive a baby and attempting to chart a path out of our frenzied 9-5 grind in urban Cambridge, Massachusetts. We wanted to achieve financial independence, quit the cubicle jobs that made us so unhappy, and create a simpler life of purpose in a rural setting.

My husband, Nate, and I are not exceptional people. We’re not rich or famous or geniuses or even particularly good-looking (although we have our moments). We’re just some average, middle-class kids from the midwest who decided we wanted something more out of life than what our consumer culture sells us.

Frugalwoods couple

While it’s true that Nate and I are average people, and we’ve never won the lottery or had investment banker salaries or been the beneficiaries of inheritances or trust funds, I’m keenly aware that we are also extraordinarily privileged.

Both of our parents had college educations, had good careers, owned homes, and were in happy, financially stable marriages before we were even conceived. All of these privileges wove themselves together to form the basis for happy, warm, well-educated, well-cared-for childhoods.

But we realized that as adults we were trying to buy our way to happiness. In order to achieve deep fulfillment and lasting contentment, we had to restructure how we lived, what we spent our money on, and how we used our time.

Back in March 2014, on day one of this journey, I’d seen frugality as the necessary means to our end. We would spend money only on the fundamentals of life, the very basest items to get us by (food, our mortgage, gas for the car, electricity, an internet connection, toilet paper, and the like).

But what I hadn’t anticipated was that frugality would become an end in and of itself. After a year of living as modestly as possible, Nate and I began to feel like we’d unlocked a map that led us out of our previous maze of mindless consumption.

Nate and I began to uncover far-reaching advantages to frugality that outstripped the mechanics of spending less cash and growing our net worth. We’d started out with an urgency around saving money, but it evolved to be about much more than that. It became a wholesale lifestyle transformation.

The satisfaction we derived from painting our own kitchen cabinets was the first tertiary benefit to frugality we discovered, and the second was close behind: doing this project together brought us closer in our marriage. For the first time since a group paper for our international elections course in college, Nate and I were team-mates on projects with tangible results.

Our modern culture has largely done away with the idea that a marriage – or a civil union or a partnership – is a working relationship, and instead touts the money-focused solution of “Don’t fight, hire out!” The answer to our hectic, frenzied, compulsive lives isn’t to simplify, it’s to pay other people to do stuff for us so that we can pile ever more on our already gluttonous to-do plates….

As Nate and I were rescuing a perfectly good lamp and dresser from a roadside pile of trash one Saturday morning, I had an epiphany: frugality is also excellent for the environment.

Under the auspices of frugality, Nate and I were consuming less and re-using more. We drastically reduced the amount of stuff we bought, and when we did buy something, we almost always got it second-hand.

By diverting used items from the waste stream, we were simultaneously decreasing the carbon footprint inherent to producing new materials and preventing usable goods from clogging landfills. Nearly every frugal strategy doubles as a boon for the environment.

It’s also true that the less we consume, the more we respect and care for the things we already own. Instead of viewing our material possessions as disposable items marching along the chain of consumption, Nate and I started to see our stuff as long-term residents of our home. Before bringing anything into our house, I questioned if I wanted to assume the responsibility of storing it, cleaning it, and eventually, finding a new home for it.

It was a comprehensive revolution of how I interact with resources, and it imbued me with a mindset of giving. Instead of tossing out old stuff, I gave it away to friends, to thrift stores, and to my Buy Nothing group. Nate patched holes in his pants, I refinished old furniture, and we didn’t throw out anything except for the precious few things that were actually trash.

Nate and I were now outsiders in the arms race of possessions. We didn’t care if people judged our car as junky (which, at 19 years old and with over 200,000 miles, it was), or our clothes as dated, because we knew that once you enroll in the buying-leads-to-fulfillment mentality, there’s no end to how much you’ll have to purchase.


The concept that we had enough also began to influence the way we ate. I abolished food waste from our kitchen. Nate made conscious decisions in the grocery store to buy only precisely what he planned to cook that week, and then we committed ourselves to eating that food in its entirety and not giving in to the temptation of Thai takeout.

We spent a lot less on food and ate more healthily, but perhaps more crucially, it benefited the environment by producing less landfill-bound garbage. Discarded food is one of the most significant components of landfills and is a major producer of the greenhouse gas methane.

The more we frugalized, the more we understood the far-reaching, positive repercussions of this lifestyle…

In addition to no longer caring what others thought about us, we let go of the need to prove ourselves through external objects because we thought that wasn’t the way to achieve deep, lasting contentment. We weren’t at that level of contentment yet, as we were still experiencing the slog of working toward our goal. But since rampant consumerism had failed to make us happy, I was really hoping that avoiding it would do the trick.

Another thing I had to learn on my journey to consume less is that material possessions should not be forced or expected to serve as stand-ins for human emotions. Sure, things may be nice to have, but we shouldn’t expect everything we own to bring us some deep, Kondo-esque sense of “joy”.

Through frugality, I came to understand that it’s entirely reasonable, and much cheaper, to own things that simply serve their intended function.

The homestead in spring. ‘Perhaps most significant during this year of revelations was our recognition that frugality gave us options.’

These revelations also led me to realize that paying money is the laziest, least creative way to solve a problem or reach a desired end. There’s no innovation in slapping down a credit card…

But perhaps most significant during this year of revelations was our recognition that frugality gave us options.

Too often, the arc of our lives and the very substance of what we do day after day is dictated to us by our jobs, our debt, and our stuff. Frugality enabled Nate and me to wrest back control.

When you’re not reliant on the salary from a job, and you’re not embattled by debt, and you’re not controlled by your things, your options for how to use your time and how to impact your world are suddenly quite open.

Frugality frees you from the day-to-day anguish of managing a rigid budget. When you operate with the worldview that there’s very little you need to buy, you no longer need to count pennies or worry if there’s enough money in your account. You’re set.

A frugal life is a creative life and one that’s devoid of clutter, both physical and mental, and absent any boredom. In my quest to save money, I always had a project to work on, a solution to innovate, or a hack to uncover.

Strip away all of the spending that doesn’t strike at the heart of your long-term goals, and you’ll have the life you actually want to live. Don’t allow your spending to prevent you from doing what you want; instead, allow frugality to sculpt the life you crave.”

From: Elizabeth Willard ThamesExtreme frugality allowed me to retire at 32 – and regain control of my life” in The Guardian Thu 8 Mar 2018 available on-line at: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/mar/08/how-to-retire-early-frugal-spending

Elizabeth Willard Thames Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living HarperBusiness, 2018

Frugalwoods cover

“The deeply personal story of how award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter.

In 2014, Elizabeth and Nate Thames were conventional 9-5 young urban professionals. But the couple had a dream to become modern-day homesteaders in rural Vermont. Determined to retire as early as possible in order to start living each day—as opposed to wishing time away working for the weekends—they enacted a plan to save an enormous amount of money: well over seventy percent of their joint take home pay. Dubbing themselves the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth began documenting their unconventional frugality and the resulting wholesale lifestyle transformation on their eponymous blog.

In less than three years, Elizabeth and Nate reached their goal. Today, they are financially independent and living out their dream on a sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of rural Vermont with their young daughter. While frugality makes their lifestyle possible, it’s also what brings them peace and genuine happiness. They don’t stress out about impressing people with their material possessions, buying the latest gadgets, or keeping up with any Joneses. In the process, Elizabeth discovered the self-confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to “the good life.” Elizabeth unlocked the freedom of a life no longer beholden to the clarion call to consume ever-more products at ever-higher sums.

Meet the Frugalwoods is the intriguing story of how Elizabeth and Nate realized that the mainstream path wasn’t for them, crafted a lifestyle of sustainable frugality, and reached financial independence at age thirty-two. While not everyone wants to live in the woods, or quit their jobs, many of us want to have more control over our time and money and lead more meaningful, simplified lives. Following their advice, you too can live your best life.”

From: https://www.amazon.com/Meet-Frugalwoods-Achieving-Financial-Independence/dp/0062668137

See also:




Being a Loner

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2018 by citydesert

“We tend to decry being alone. But emerging research suggests some potential benefits to being a loner – including for our creativity, mental health and even leadership skills.

I can be a reluctant socialiser. I’m sometimes secretly pleased when social plans are called off. I get restless a few hours into a hangout. I even once went on a free 10-day silent meditation retreat – not for the meditation, but for the silence…

Asocial tendencies like these are often far from ideal. Abundant research shows the harms of social isolation, considered a serious public health problem in countries that have rapidly ageing populations (though talk of a ‘loneliness epidemic’ may be overblown). In the UK, the Royal College of General Practitioners says that loneliness has the same risk level for premature death as diabetes. Strong social connections are important for cognitive functioning, motor function and a smoothly running immune system.

This is especially clear from cases of extreme social isolation. Examples of people kept in captivity, children kept isolated in abusive orphanages, and prisoners kept in solitary confinement all show how prolonged solitude can lead to hallucinations and other forms of mental instability.

But these are severe and involuntary cases of aloneness. For those of us who just prefer plenty of alone time, emerging research suggests some good news: there are upsides to being reclusive – for both our work lives and our emotional well-being.

Loner 1

One key benefit is improved creativity. Gregory Feist, who focuses on the psychology of creativity at California’s San Jose State University, has defined creativity as thinking or activity with two key elements: originality and usefulness. He has found that personality traits commonly associated with creativity are openness (receptiveness to new thoughts and experiences), self-efficacy (confidence), and autonomy (independence) – which may include “a lack of concern for social norms” and “a preference for being alone”. In fact, Feist’s research on both artists and scientists shows that one of the most prominent features of creative folks is their lesser interest in socialising.

One personality trait associated with creativity is independence – which can include a preference for being alone.

One reason for this is that such people are likely to spend sustained time alone working on their craft. Plus, Feist says, many artists “are trying to make sense of their internal world and a lot of internal personal experiences that they’re trying to give expression to and meaning to through their art.” Solitude allows for the reflection and observation necessary for that creative process.

A recent vindication of these ideas came from University at Buffalo psychologist Julie Bowker, who researches social withdrawal. Social withdrawal usually is categorised into three types: shyness caused by fear or anxiety; avoidance, from a dislike of socialising; and unsociability, from a preference for solitude.

A paper by Bowker and her colleagues was the first to show that a type of social withdrawal could have a positive effect – they found that creativity was linked specifically to unsociability. They also found that unsociability had no correlation with aggression (shyness and avoidance did).

This was significant because while previous research had suggested that unsociability might be harmless, Bowker and colleagues’ paper showed that it could actually be beneficial. Unsociable people are likely to be “having just enough interaction,” Bowker says. “They have a preference for being alone, but they also don’t mind being with others.”

Loner 2

Research has found that unsociability is linked to higher levels of creativity.

There is gender and cultural variation, of course. For instance, some research suggests that unsociable children in China have more interpersonal and academic problems than unsociable kids in the West. Bowker says that these differences are narrowing as the world becomes more globalised.

Still, it turns out that solitude is important for more than creativity.

It’s commonly believed that leaders need to be gregarious. But this depends – among other things, on the personalities of their employees. One 2011 study  showed that in branches of a pizza chain where employees were more passive, extroverted bosses were associated with higher profits. But in branches where employees were more proactive, introverted leaders were more effective. One reason for this is that introverted people are less likely to feel threatened by strong personalities and suggestions. They’re also more likely to listen.

Since ancient times, meanwhile, people have been aware of a link between isolation and mental focus. After all, cultures with traditions of religious hermits believe that solitude is important for enlightenment.

Many religions consider periods of solitude to be important.

Recent research has given us a better understanding of why. One benefit of unsociability is the brain’s state of active mental rest, which goes hand-in-hand with the stillness of being alone. When another person is present, your brain can’t help but pay some attention . This can be a positive distraction. But it’s still a distraction.

Daydreaming in the absence of such distractions activates the brain’s default-mode network. Among other functions, this network helps to consolidate memory and understand others’ emotions. Giving free rein to a wandering mind not only helps with focus in the long term but strengthens your sense of both yourself and others. Paradoxically, therefore, periods of solitude actually help when it comes time to socialise once more. And the occasional absence of focus ultimately helps concentration in the long run.

A more recent proponent of thoughtful and productive solitude is Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and founder of Quiet Revolution, a company that promotes quiet and introvert-friendly workplaces .

Quiet cover

“These days, we tend to believe that creativity emerges from a decidedly gregarious process, but in fact it requires sustained attention and deep focus,” she says. “Also, humans are such porous, social beings that when we surround ourselves with others, we automatically take in their opinions and aesthetics. To truly chart our own path or vision, we have to be willing to sequester ourselves, at least for some period of time.”

Still, the line between useful solitude and dangerous isolation can be blurry. “Almost anything can be adaptive and maladaptive, depending on how extreme they get,” Feist says. A disorder has to do with dysfunction. If someone stops caring about people and cuts off all contact, this could point to a pathological neglect of social relations. But creative unsociability is a far cry from this.

Being alone can activate a part of the brain that, paradoxically, strengthens the ability to form social bonds.

In fact, Feist says, “there’s a real danger with people who are never alone.” It’s hard to be introspective, self-aware, and fully relaxed unless you have occasional solitude. In addition, introverts tend to have fewer but stronger friendships – which has been linked to greater happiness.

Loner 4

As with many things, quality reigns over quantity. Nurturing a few solid relationships without feeling the need to constantly populate your life with chattering voices ultimately may be better for you.

Thus, if your personality tends toward unsociability, you shouldn’t feel the need to change. Of course, that comes with caveats. But as long as you have regular social contact, you are choosing solitude rather than being forced into it, you have at least a few good friends and your solitude is good for your well-being or productivity, there’s no point agonising over how to fit a square personality into a round hole.

So feel free to de-clutter your social calendar. It’s psychologist-approved.”

From: Christine Ro “Why Being a Loner May Be Good for Your Health”

Full text available on-line at: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180228-there-are-benefits-to-being-antisocial-or-a-loner?ns_campaign=bbc-three&ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=bbcthree


The Monastic Paradox

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2018 by citydesert

“There is a paradox within the monastic ideal: on the one hand, monks are meant to withdraw from the world into spiritual and ascetic seclusion; on the other hand, scripture enjoins hospitality on all Christians, to emulate the model of Abraham at Mamre – “for in this way some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). This paradox becomes especially pronounced in the course of the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as monastic communities become custodians of the increasingly popular pilgrim shrines in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Near East. Some practitioners took this paradox to extremes, such as the stylite saints, who maintained a highly visible seclusion while at the same dispensing advice and blessings to large numbers of visitors. Historical texts, such as saints’ lives or pilgrim accounts, describe the tensions that arise from the paradox. Below I explore the scriptural and pious models for hospitality and charity, and the resulting conflict between monastic seclusion and pilgrim hospitality as described in the sources. I will also look at issues such as different levels of access to public and private space, differentiation between monastic and lay guests, and differentiation by gender….

John of Ephesus recognizes that there are these two aspects to monasticism and being a devout holy man: hospitality and seclusion. Thus we can see that the paradox was already acknowledged in antiquity. The texts themselves of course cannot be treated as unbiased historical sources. They are supposed to enhance the reputation of the saint by emphasizing his humility, piety, self-abnegation. They often become quite convoluted in the pursuit of this behaviour. According to this logic, breaking away from fasting to entertain a guest is regarded as a penance rather than a relief. It further enhances the subject’s piety and willingness to endure suffering (in this case subjugating his desire [to fast] to obedience [the obligation to provide hospitality]). One monk is persuaded to give up total isolation by the argument that isolation is a form of self-love: “for the divine law prescribes loving one’s neighbor as oneself… admitting many to a share of one’s wealth is characteristic of the virtue of charity.” (Theodoret, Hist. Rel. IV.4) Humility could further contribute to the paradoxical behaviour, in the case also described in John of Ephesus’ accounts, of a holy man who on account of his humility, did not want to accept the lavish hospitality which the abbot felt morally obligated to bestow on him (John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, Ch. XVII)….

John Ephesus

The conflict between hospitality and monastic seclusion was one that was recognized by ancient authors. However, it is possible that the conflict is highlighted, especially in the Syrian tradition, to emphasize the virtues of the saint. In practice, this conflict was alleviated by the designation of different spaces for people from outside the community, such as hostels, church courtyards and porticos, etc. Differentiation of space also leads to social differentiation in levels of access. The highest level of access was granted to fellow monastics or clergy, then to those with high social status. Based on this hierarchy, non-elite lay women would be expected to have the lowest level of access. Nonetheless they appear frequently as petitioners of saints despite this supposed disadvantage, so it seems not to have been a deterrent.”

From: Marlena Whiting (University of Amsterdam)

“The Monastic Paradox: negotiating monastic seclusion and pilgrim hospitality in the Late Antique Near East” Text available on-line at: https://hospitam.hypotheses.org/510