10 Tips for Isolation From Cloistered Nuns

Hello, survivors!

I’ve come across a great article with invaluable advice from cloistered nuns in Cádiz, south of Spain – some of the most experienced people in staying isolated from the world. Their experience can be very helpful in the difficult times of coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic, for our lockdown in isolation. For you Spanish speakers, you can find it here. For the rest of you I’ll translate it below.

*In my non-native English, I’ve tried to keep it as loyal to the original text as possible, while trying to avoid things that would sound weird. Hope it’s good enough. Enjoy!*

Columbario. Alberto Campo Baeza, 1998. Image from Carmelitas Descalzas Cádiz

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1. ATTITUDE OF FREEDOM.
The most fundamental thing is the attitude with which you live, the interpretation that you make of the situation, the awareness that this is not a defeat. Paradoxically, this can be an opportunity to discover the most genuine and greatest freedom: the inner freedom that no one can take from you, the one that comes from yourself. Eventually, the authorities enforce us to be at home; your freedom consists of adhering voluntarily, knowing that it is for a higher good. Free is the one who has the capacity to assume the situation because they want to do the right thing. You are not locked up at home, you have chosen to stay there freely.

2.PEACE WHERE THE SOUL EXPANDS.

Look within yourself, the widest space to expand and be happy is in your heart; you do not need external spaces, but to walk comfortably in your inner world. Give room for creativity, listen to your own inspirations and find the beauty of which you are capable. Perhaps you have not yet discovered that in the peace of the soul, life blossoms… life is the creation of more life, communication of joy and love. When you get used to living in yourself, you don’t want to go out anymore.

3. DON’T NEGLECT, PEACE HAS TO BE WORKED.

Exercise virtues that require concentration and self-knowledge, those that we normally neglect because we are busy with a thousand ‘external’ tasks. Whether you live in heaven or hell depends on how you deal with your own emotions and thoughts, the management of your senses and passions. Observe yourself and dominate yourself; because if you let yourself be carried away by fear, sadness or apathy, you will hardly cut the thread, since there are not many evasions. Discipline your heart: when some thought does you no good, throw it away. Try to lean towards everything you notice that gives you peace and joy… harmony needs hard work.

4. LOVE

The trending topic for these days will be coexistence. In the face of the pandemic crisis, we are more susceptible and even irritable. Quite often you’ll have to be very patient and use common sense. We are diverse, each one has a different sensitivity due to thousands of circumstances. Accept and respect the opinions and feelings of others. It is very common, when we are at home, that we aim to control everything … Try not to, it would be the cause of many confrontations and frustrations. Downplay differences, empower things that unify. The only terrain that really belongs to you is yourself: your thoughts, words and emotions; don’t control others, control yourself. From love you will get understanding and empathy, the desire to give and thanks when receiving. Respect, embrace fragility, don’t dramatise, live and let live.

5. DON’T KILL TIME

Nothing can create such a feeling of emptiness and boredom as spending time uselessly. It is a very serious enemy that can steal your peace, and even get you depressed. Make a plan for these days and try to live it with discipline. Rest and occupation are not antagonistic, take the opportunity to rest doing activities that relax you or stimulate a good mood. Take your time in the simple things: that the onion is poached, the meat is tender, the stew is slow cooked… We have time! Even if a stew takes you 2 hours, enjoy making it; but try that the things you do, as simple as they might be, have value and a purpose – not to waste meaningless time. Killing time is killing life.

6. BROADEN YOUR OWN BORDERS

How many times have we complained about everything we didn’t due because of a lack of time? Well, now we have it! That book that they gave you three Christmases ago and you haven’t read, that one that you haven’t yet returned because you left it in half. If you like music, look for new artists, discover new genres. Do you fancy a trip? Think of some exotic country and learn about its culture, league, traditions… we have the internet for that. If you are a person of faith and prayer, perhaps you don’t know what to pray because you have already exhausted everything you knew. Try looking for liturgy; search in the writings of some saint, surely you will find many things that will fill your soul with new lights. Do not settle for what you already know and know… now that there is an opportunity, open yourself to news that brings you wisdom and fills you with joy.

7. FOR THE MOST SENSITIVE

Realistically, not all of us dominate emotions the same. There will be people who, because of their psychology, will find this confinement much more difficult. Emotions not only come from within us, but what we see, hear, touch, etc. influences us. Therefore, we must be selective with what we receive from outside to avoid entering vicious circles that trap us in despair or make us lose control. Avoid as much as possible: pessimistic conversations, arguments, dirty looks, excess information, horror movies or intrigue, home quarrels. As there aren’t many evasions that make us change our “chip”, everything that enters our brain will stay there for longer than usual, so we must be careful not to obsess or allow a negative emotion to nest within us. The excess of screens is also bad, because it over-stimulates the brain and makes us more nervous. You have to sleep well, but too much can cause a feeling of failure or defeat. A great remedy to channel energy and relax is dancing. Put on good music and laugh a long time dancing. Nothing like laughing to restart our inner system.

8. YOU ARE NOT ISOLATED

It is important to understand that you don’t have to feel alone, because you aren’t. The love and affection of your people is still there, although the physical contact has distanced itself. This is an opportunity to experience communication on a deeper, more intimate level. Talk to those you have at home with ease, without rushing, listen to them until they are done, let the dialogue build trust and confidences build complicity. Say what you never have time to say, tell what you have always wanted to tell, talk about everything and nothing but with affection, which is what reaches the soul and makes a nest. Answer that Christmas postcard that you did not thank, the letter that moved you and to which you were postponing an answer, that e-mail of an old friend. Look for words with beauty, try to give expression to your noblest feelings … Speak from the heart and create deeper ties with your people. You will discover that distance is not absence.

9. DAY OF REFLECTION

In order not to get overwhelmed, it is also convenient to look for moments of silence and solitude. In the time management for these days, you should also have slots for individual oxygenation. I have heard tons of people say: I wish I could retire some days to a monastery! Well the occasion is here, at home. Ordinarily we get tired of the fast paced lives we live, as if we were out of control from the daily routine without time to assimilate our lives. We expect substantial changes in society – this cannot continue like this, we also hear a lot. Well, we have this opportunity to get into a cocoon like the little worm that turns into a butterfly. Reflect, think, meditate… What can I change in myself to be better after these days? The distance to the things that we ordinarily have in our hands will help to see if we are really putting the accent on those that matter; which others things we can let go, which are irreplaceable, etc. A good evaluation to improve will make these days very useful. We’ll be a new person after this crisis.

10. PRAY.

Only prayer (which is the bond of friendship with God) can sustain life in all situations, especially adverse ones. Prayer, as St. Teresa would say, last but actually the first one. Praying is opening up to that Other who can sustain me when I need help; but also when I am well, to pray is to support others who need it. It is the most universal experience of Love. Pray, talk to God, the hours will pass without you realising it: talk to him about everything, he never tires of listening to you, vent with Him when you need it – and why not? … let him vent with you as well, he is your Father, your Brother, your Friend. Exercise your faith and your confidence. If you left the relationship with God in the sailor suit of your first communion or in that beautiful white dress (note for non-catholics: 10 years old), try again, now there is time and serenity to talk with Him. Maybe you do not believe because you have not tried. What if you try?

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The good thing is that the keys are there and then, you can mould it to your own experience. For example, you may prefer meditation or yoga instead of prayer. Or perhaps you’ll enjoy better painting or reading a book rather than making a 2 hours stew. It’s up to you 🙂

Stay safe, stay sane!

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