By Christy Gualtieri
When writer and film director Philip GrӦning wanted to make a documentary following the lives of the reclusive Carthusian monks, he wrote to their superior for permission. He was told no, but maybe someday. Sixteen years later, Groning received a phone call, and he was invited to stay with them for half a year to document how they lived.
The Carthusians in the film reside in the Grand Chartreuse, the head Carthusian monastery in the French Alps, and spend their days in nearly complete silence and contemplation. They also study, work producing Chartreuse liqueur, and maintain the centuries-old building.
What makes this documentary (called “Into Great Silence”) so compelling, frankly, is its monotony. There are no special effects (in fact, there’s hardly any music, or speaking, aside from a few minutes of mid-night chanting); no villains; and little conversation. The camera only focuses on one of the monks at a time for most of the time. But the viewer is drawn into the rhythm of the monks’ lives, the cycling times of work, rest, meditation and prayer, sleep, and rising. There is a calmness that seems to go right through the screen and after a while what seems like a boring premise becomes a meditation unto itself.
The interesting thing about it, really, is that our lives can be very similar. We have a rhythm to our days, and our weeks. It may be waking up, going to work, coming home, and going to bed. It may be waking up, driving a truck for twelve hours cross-country, sleeping in a rig on the side of the highway, and waking up to do it all over again. It may be waking, studying, learning, and taking exams, followed by caffeine to stay awake to keep studying! Whatever your life, your routine, looks like, there is a sacredness to it. There can be a calmness to it.
It doesn’t always feel that way, I know. You may feel restless; want to see the world, but you’re unable to because of your circumstances. You may feel bored, tired of the same commute, the same co-workers, the same drudgery. I know that, for me, there are some days that just drag, and I don’t see the beauty in the housekeeping or the balancing of the million things I have to do but don’t necessarily want to.
But then I think about the monks, and realize what a benefit there is to the process of living a routined life. Each movement that you know is coming helps to expand your ability to contemplate the world we live in, and helps us to learn more about ourselves. Maybe that 40 minutes you’ve spent in traffic has, over the years, made way for helping you expand your thinking as you’ve listened to audio books in the car. Or that time in that big rig all by yourself has helped give your time to listen to yourself, to discover what you want from the world we all live in.
And maybe all of that drudgery is just a season in your life, and you’ll be able to accomplish more one day, but you would only have gotten there because of the work you’ve done on the ordinary ones.
In this cold, still (and short!) month, I wish you the gift of a routine. The gift of those moments in between the things you have to do, the moments where you can dream, and explore, and find out who you really are – so you can get ready to hit the ground running once it thaws and the warmer weather brings more opportunity for you. And even if it doesn’t, I hope this time of winter routine brings you the best gift of all — peace.
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.