Many monks struggle to adjust to monastic life upon entering. As the abbey’s father describes, novices entering the monastery are socially vulnerable and disadvantaged by having to learn and cope with the community’s members, daily routines, and overall environment. Another member describes the struggle of learning to live with people whose personalities he could not choose. A founding member describes feeling “right at home” upon joining the brotherhood. He stresses not feeling as though he “fitted in” with some of the people, but that he knew he had made the right decision.
Despite initial assumptions, the community seems to operate as many intentional communities do in the sense that interpersonal relationships can be difficult to adjust to. Although not much verbal communication goes on, some members still recognize that small tension can exist between members.
The abbey’s father describes how the practices of monastic life “force you to contend with your inner demons,” making the assimilation process for newer members even more difficult despite the obvious struggles with social integration. One member remembers struggling learning how to live with himself and how to become comfortable with the thought of living at the monastery for his whole life. He describes how his relationship with God helped him to cope with some of the struggles of living in the new environment. Reading also helps him to cope and escape personal issues he has faced.
One member recounts having to ask the abbott for permission to leave the abbey when his sister passed away. He had three days to drive to Washington DC, about a six-hour drive, attend the funeral, and then drive back before re-entering the community. He seemed aware of how short of a time span this was for something so painful. Still, the monks take their vows and understand that they are dedicated to the lifestyle they have joined, no matter what may happen outside of the community. Monks are allowed to speak to each other during difficult times to gain strength and support from one another. Members’ families can stay in the retreat houses on the property to visit yearly.
The video below is a compilation of interviews of the abbey’s members who describe their joining the abbey and the struggles they faced upon joining. For site visitors with hearing impairments, please feel free to utilize the closed captioning option on the YouTube bar.