AVOID: IDLE HANDS AND AN IDLE LIFE
Monasteries were formed before and during the Middle Ages to help a community of Monks, laymen, and sometimes Sisters and lay women to survive and find spiritual nurture of their souls. Besides the spiritual disciplines and daily and weekly worship services, the participants were expected to help with the animals and the gardens.
The animals provided eggs, milk, fresh and cured meats, and hides to tan. The gardens were divided into medicinal, vegetable, orchards, and beautiful living works of art. In the medicinal garden were herbs and other plants used for aches, pains, wounds and diseases. The vegetable garden had both fruiting and roots crops that provided fresh food and food to be canned in pottery for later use. The orchards were planted in the cemetery to be organically nurtured by the inhabitants who were not buried in caskets. If there was enough water, artistic gardens decorated the monastery grounds using trees, shrubs, and both perennial and annual flowers.
The daily schedule allowed for times of rest, meditation, silence, meals, and sleep. However, the Abbot looked unfavorably upon idle hands, idle minds, and idle lives. Whither the idleness was due to laziness, apathy (I don’t care.), depression, melancholic bitterness, fatigue, or indecisive anxiety (I don’t know what to do.), the prescribed discipline was usually “work the schedule and schedule the work”. Compassion and survival are not always compatible.
As a Pastoral Counselor with over 45 years of experience I have met clients whose idleness moved along the continuum from couch potato to deep and disparate depression. I have worked with psychiatrists and other physicians who can’t afford the time to listen and really get to know their patients. Sometimes they over prescribe pain medications which can cause addictions. Sometimes they over prescribe antidepressants and other psychotropic medications without checking on their effect often enough. For instance, long term use of antidepressants can cause weight gain which is depressing.
I suggest three behavioral modifications for my clients to compliment the doctor’s medications. First, he or she needs to find someone besides me to really listen and care about their concerns. Loneliness hurts. Second, I encourage them to walk. It is whole body therapy. Third, I encourage them to plant a small garden of flowers or vegetables and nurture those plants every day. This includes learning from others who grow plants and reading about the plants they are growing. There is daylong joy in picking and shelling a gallon of English Peas as I did today, and eating them tonight with barbecue ribs and a home grown salad.