Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 235

My writing is mostly fueled by what I read. Now I find my life-long reading lust is in freefall. For most of my adult life, I prided myself on starting the morning by reading sections from four books—spirituality, writing, poetry, memoir---but no longer. Even my novel reading has dropped drastically. Magazines pile up. I’ve attributed it to a normal malaise following my cancer diagnosis and put it on the back burner to simmer until I figure it out.

So, what’s left, if anything? Only poetry I’m afraid. One of the most joyous days in the past few months happened when the latest edition of Poetry East, a journal I subscribe to, arrived at my door. (Ironically the theme of this issue is “the bliss of reading.”). Finally, something I looked forward to reading. I limit myself to reflecting on three poems a day so that the experience lasts. And I’ve got a back-up, too, because I kept all the back issues of this journal and plan to reread them until the next new one arrives.

I also find pleasure in my on-going conversation with the Japanese haiku master Issa. Every morning I read a couple of pages from a translation by Sam Hamill and then choose one to converse with. I know I put a few in my last blog, but it’s all I have to offer right now. Here’s a few more:

Jan. 13
You remain with me
old wild goose, no matter where
you roam—same autumn night.
--Issa

You remain with me
dear mother
even though your last
African violet has ceased
to blossom.
--Old Monk

Feb. 6
Naturally,
I bow my head on holy
Kamiji mountain
--Issa

As a child
I bowed my head
passing every church.
Now I prostrate inwardly
before each passerby
--Old Monk

Feb. 7
While the street-corner
Priest continues to blather—
Ah!—tranquility
--Issa

While the retreat leader
babbles on
about the ideal monastic life
I gaze out the window
at the gnarled ginkgo tree aglow!
--Old Monk

Maybe the longing to read will return. But for now, these short meanderings will have to suffice. And if it’s all that remains, I’m satisfied.

Here’s a footnote: The day after I wrote the above, I visited my eye cancer surgeon and found out that there’s a lot of swelling in the eye where the tumor was, and drops were prescribed. My good eye has also lost some vision, so my doctor recommended a visit to an optometrist. This filled me with hope. I have to admit the eye blurriness I’ve experienced in the past few months has lessened the desire to pick up a book or even a Kindle. Maybe the waning of my wish to read has nothing to do with any internal angst about dying. Maybe all that’s needed to rekindle “a bliss for reading” is a new pair of glasses.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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