Future Monasteries

A live discussion on future monasteries and their necessity with Brendan Graham Dempsey and Alexandros Lysios.


In the Metamodern Spirituality group there was an interesting re-post by Brendan of something that Hanzi Freinacht posted recently: 

"In The Listening Society I wrote that “Everybody should get a year off once in a lifetime to go look for new purpose in life and make tough life decisions under professional care and support—in a kind of secular monastery.” The pur­pose of metamodern monasteries would be to offer all citizens nec­essary periods of seclusion (and/or community) and con­cen­trated ho­ning of inner skills, such as heal­ing from trauma, mak­ing large life decis­ions or transitions, learning new life philo­sophies, pract­icing meditation and tak­ing care of the body, forgiving people who hurt us, sorting out ethical dil­emmas, and other transformational practices.

It would make sense to create a great network of secular monasteries, properly equipped with teachers, coaches, therapists, libraries, gardens, gyms and simple accommodation. People would be trained in one or more wisdom traditions, be supported in making nec­ess­ary changes of habits, face their traumas and so on. Instead of an authoritative priest­hood like in traditional religions, the main agent would be a professional group of “exist­ential social workers”, trained to deal with people’s diffe­rent life crises and to act as advisors. They should be highly skilled in one or more mind­fulness and meditation techniques, in turn scrutinized by scien­tific studies.

An important aspect of such a neo-monastic societal infrastructure would be to include different kinds of bodywork and “subtle body pract­ices”, refining the skills of dealing with direct bodily experiences and sen­sations and developing the general wellness of our bodies. Such develop­ment is not only of great value for its own sake, but also a necessary tool for strengthening our overall body-mind systems so we can handle the difficulties inherent to life’s crises and the stage transitions of per­sonal dev­elopment.

So we’re looking at a major project of the listening society, one that is indeed comparable to the construction of the welfare state. You need new facilities, new infrastructure, new groups of professionals, new educatio­nal and career paths (which can generate quite a few new and very cool jobs by the way), and new institutions to govern, evaluate and devel­op the whole endeavor. It’s going to take decades to build and/or culti­vate, and yet it will produce few tangible, manifest things. But it will pro­duce a more listening society, and an existentially mature civilization. Millions of people will untie subtle knots in their inner worlds and manage their lives more com­passionately and skillfully. If the listening society is to fulfill its pro­mise—a society where everyone is genuinely seen and heard—it must rest upon a foun­dation of inwards listening.

All of these services should be backed up on a collective level so that people are guaranteed a year off from work and be guaranteed a basic live­lihood during the per­iod. Hope­fully, it could be possible even for parents of children to attend such periods of seclusion, just switching their day-time work for monastic life.

“What’s the point of all this? And, again, can we afford it? Should we really be sucking our thumbs and navel-gazing when there are so many issues to attend and so much suffering in the world?”

Still not following, modernist mind? Sigh.

The point is that it is only by seriously helping people to get what they really need and want from life—by supp­orting serious adult devel­op­ment, development of the mind and the per­sonality as a whole—that we can raise the level of behavi­oral functioning through­out soc­iety and the level of mental health through­out all social groups. It is in this man­ner we can raise the average “eff­ective value meme” of the popul­ation above the modern stage.

And, just to remind you of the stakes: With­out a deep and lasting chan­ge towards higher effective value meme, we’re pretty much all going to die in a horrible car crash as we enter this age of super-tech­nologies without a corresponding shift of psychological and cultural devel­op­ment.

So it’s not that we can’t afford to do it, it’s that we can’t afford not to. “Can’t afford” a medicine that will save your life from an aggressive dis­ease? Well, then, too bad, you’ll just have to suffer and die.

Existential Politics isn’t navel-gazing. Things are only navel-gazing if they are not conducive to growth and social change. If something does prevent oceans of human suffering, improves lives in so many ways, and saves soc­iety from collapse because it spurs human growth into deeper mat­urity—then it’s not navel-gazing." 

Now it just so happens that Brendan, on top of leading the Metamodern Spirituality group and having a deep interest in the topic, has recently participated in a series of discussions on The Artful Scaling of the Religion that's Not a Religion and that I, at the end of 2017, was given a grant by the School of Design of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to re-imagine the monasteries of the future. 

So given those happy synchronicities, we thought a discussion on the topic between us was warranted. 


Brendan Graham Dempsey is a writer whose work focuses on the meaning crisis and the nature of spirituality in metamodernity. He earned his BA in Religious Studies from the University of Vermont and his MA in Religion and the Arts from Yale University. He lives in Greensboro Bend, Vermont, where he runs the holistic retreat center Sky Meadow. He is known to sometimes answer to the names Julian, A. Severan, Sadie Alwyn Moon, and others. Recently, he's been in dialogues with John Vervaeke and Layman Pascal on how to artfully scale the 'religion that is not a religion.'

Alexandros Lysios is a formally trained Greek philosopher (BA, MA), Bay Area entrepreneur, experience designer, psychonaut, and community builder, having lived & worked in Europe, North America, and Asia. He recently relaunched Seanius, a sociotechnical infrastructure for coordinating global awakening and universal flourishing.