Contemplative Animism and Non-Contrivance: Exploring the Sanctuary's Monastic Rule
Reflections on Learning Ways of Non-Contrivance, Part 1
What might it mean to build a contemplative animist monastic practice?
While there are many valid ways to approach that question, Black Stone Sanctuary uses this monastic Rule as a guide:
"Follow the ways of non-contrivance."
For the Sanctuary, following the ways of non-contrivance means cultivating space for emergent (uncontrived) practice. Broadly speaking, the function of this Rule is to allow the infrastructure and practices for the Sanctuary to show up through guidance arrived at by bottom-up spontaneous animist intuitions, rather than by imposing structures through the top-down centralized planning so often favored by the intellect.
Following the ways of non-contrivance means creating conditions that invite a certain quality of attentive engagement that can be applied to inner and outer worlds — an ease that is often found through silence, solitude, "doing nothing," and deep listening.
The myriad (and often paradoxical) meanings of the Rule typically unfold in layers or stages over a long period of time.
The beauty and challenge of this Rule is that these ways resist explicit codification. It’s perfectly appropriate for each individual monastic and group to interpret them differently.
But if each monastic entity always remains free to interpret the Rule as they are inclined, then how does the Sanctuary avoid the pitfalls of the formless “do your own thing/anything goes” attitude of stereotypical Paganism?
One way is by placing strong emphasis on developing skills of monastic discernment.
Living by this Rule means navigating by intuition, listening skills, trust, and especially discernment.
The responsibility of a monastic in discernment at Black Stone Sanctuary is to follow the ways of non-contrivance as applicable to their calling. This calls for courage, fortitude, patience, and persistence.
It also helps to cultivate an appreciation for paradox, as the ways of non-contrivance are often subtle and may seem contradictory at first. Skills of discernment are necessary to identify the ways of the Rule, and to differentiate the ways from what they are not.
In practice, I find that discernment of the ways often operates like an inner compass gently pointing in the direction that offers appropriate guidance, or best represents non-contrivance.
Discernment and listening skills, for example, help the aspiring monastic differentiate between "what I feel like doing right now" and "what course of action best aligns with the ways of non-contrivance." Sometimes these match; other times they don't. Developing the strength to set aside "what I want right now" to make space for the emergence of the uncontrived is important for monastic practice at the Sanctuary.
Ultimately, however, it is up to the monastic in discernment whether to listen, trust, and follow the path this inner compass reveals.
Making Space for Emergent Monastic Practice
A central aspect of my own monastic practice is making space. To make space for something is not the same as imposing that thing on ourselves. It's important to discern the difference between making space and taking the wheel to steer.
The same principle applies to the ways of non-contrivance. One way I interpret the Rule in relation to my own calling is as a reminder of my responsibility to make non-coercive space for monasticism to emerge according to animist principles. I cultivate spaces where it's safe and appropriate to let the much-vaunted intellect take a back seat, so that ecological and relational animist forms of intelligence may infuse and inform my contemplative practice.
Making space for emergence also means unlearning deeply ingrained subtle habits of contrivance and coercion. In an atmosphere of scarcities imposed and enforced by authorities and systems, it’s common to internalize coercive habits and enforce them upon ourselves under the guise of "self-improvement."
But if I am to live by the Rule, changes I make at the Sanctuary must emerge. They must show up, suggest themselves to my deeper mind through dreamtime or meditative perception, and then be enacted in their own time, rather than imposed through conscious exertion of willpower.
When I feel pressured, stressed, tempted to exert "mind over matter" to push past my body's natural limits, or driven to hustle for more money as a means of getting the Sanctuary what it needs, I look to the Rule to guide my decisions. Oftentimes the Rule gently suggests that the best thing for me to do is the most paradoxical and counter-intuitive thing possible for someone raised in a culture of normalized overwork and coercion: nothing.
Here’s where patience and discernment are needed, however. “Nothing” in this context might actually mean taking a nap, meditating, and/or doing sloth yoga. It might mean allowing the situation ample incubation time to sink into my deeper mind while awaiting guidance from Those I serve. It might mean holding off on some action (“non-doing”) until a fresh sense of perspective emerges in relation to a concern that feels pressing.
From this perspective, naps are not laziness. Rest is an incubation practice that opens portals to embodied ecological intelligence, and is therefore an important aspect of animist-inspired monastic practice.
A Practice of Un-Knowing
Charles Eisenstein writes that “not knowing calls forth gifts."
While I do not know how to make things happen for the Sanctuary, I can learn how to allow them to emerge. I can cultivate space for emergence.
When I embrace deep rest, deep listening, incubation, and doing nothing, I can invite stillness. I can give the Holy Powers room to show up and sculpt the Sanctuary into its proper shape, bit by bit, through proper training of my talents and gifts into service of what wants to be born.
Practicing un-knowing means admitting that I cannot “figure out” with my conscious mind how to build appropriate monastic practices and infrastructure for Black Stone Sanctuary. "Trying harder" or exerting control will never work to manifest the full vision of the Sanctuary with which I've been entrusted. (Ask me how I know!)
Why? Because "trying harder" and “taking control” are habits of contrivance. Therefore, these methods do not align with the monastic Rule emphasizing ways of non-contrivance.
At the same time, I accept the responsibility and discipline of using my skills in service of the Sanctuary by cultivating spaces for incubation and non-doing.
I accept the responsibility of cultivating space for emergent monastic practices rooted in principles of sacred endarkenment, which includes non-contrivance.
I accept responsibility for helping to shape the unfolding of the Sanctuary according to the grounded animist wisdom of my ecological teachers: black stones, conifers, fungi, mycorrhizal networks, cannabis plants, and mosses.
I accept the responsibility of discernment, including trusting gut instinct (the intelligence of the enteric nervous system) to do the steering, rather than intellect.
This means I cannot contrive ways to find a new home for the Sanctuary while my intellect takes charge of this process. Rather, my relational animist instincts must lead the way, while my intellect follows.
While this certainly feels like a form of surrender, it’s not passivity or giving up. It's an acceptance of the Sanctuary’s Rule, which entreats me to trust that following the ways of non-contrivance can reveal guidance that could not be found any other way.
Thus, I accept that living by the Rule means discovering from first principles how Black Stone Sanctuary shall emerge.
As an early arrival amongst the fledgling monastic movement in the modern polytheist revival, my responsibility is not to contrive, but to cultivate incubation space and modular “building blocks” that can serve the development of contemplative animist monastic traditions.