There is a story of a woman who visited a monastery and asked the abbot what the monks do in there all day. The abbot responded, “We fall down, get up, and fall down again.”
We don’t hear too much about monks and monasteries these days. But, to me, their way of life is instructive. They take vows to be guided by certain principles of conduct and a set of beliefs; they commit themselves to a small family and to a particular place. They devote themselves to spiritual development and good works. What’s more, these deep and specific commitments are for life. In essence, the monks promise themselves and their community that they will not run away—even when the going gets rough.
As a psychologist, I believe that a good life—a mature, wholehearted life—takes this kind of commitment. We commit ourselves to a way of life, to a set of guiding principles that are constructive, healthy, and sensible. While we dedicate ourselves to our individual lives and families first, we safeguard a commitment to the welfare of our national and global family as well.
In this vein, democracy and citizenship also could be conceived as akin to the monastic life. In order for them to work, they require lifelong commitments. They are played best with a long game strategy in mind, knowing that we will inevitably encounter challenges along the way.
Yesterday was election day in the United States, the day when we all had a chance to have our say. Voting in a democracy is a wonderful privilege and many of us exercised it. We got up and we did what we were called to do.
Some of us are thrilled with the results and the sentiment that carried the day: a resounding disavowal of the status quo, a protest against politics-as-usual. Others are stunned, anxious, and discouraged, worried that divisiveness and hatred have won. Still others feel untethered and at sea, having had no good options from which to choose. Some believe that we fell down, others that we got up. These opposing attitudes are essential to human nature, and part of what it means to be a family.
For my part, I wish our new president well and hope that he will leave behind the acrimony and drama of the election, and lead our country with a clear vision and steadier hand.
But I must do more than offer well wishes. Together, with our disappointment, our shock, and our worries in tow, we must carry on. Holding onto our hope and passion to lift us, we must get up again. To me, that is what it means to be committed to my life and living it well. That is what it means to be a citizen of the United States and a member of the human family—as the poet Marge Piercy puts it, I want to move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
In other words, I want to be among those who are committed to a lifelong journey of falling down and getting up again. There's always work to do.
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Kunst, PhD
Check out my book and other cool stuff at www.drjenniferkunst.com