During the long hours of reckoning and reclaiming my mind and spirit while discontinuing, I found myself drawn to the writings of a group of religious ascetics known as the “Desert Fathers.” They were a small band of religious monks who had renounced the world, wealth, and earthly consolation to live in the desert of Egypt around the third century AD. They eschewed all pleasures of the senses, rich food, baths, leisure, and anything that might have luxuriated them in deference to a life of poverty, simplicity, chastity and prayer.
I am not sure what drew me to their writings during this time, but long ago I stopped trying to justify various tools or habits I found helpful to get me through my tapering. I suppose it might have been due, in part, to the fact that the Desert Fathers lived more or less inside their minds and spirits, spending all their time praying, meditating, singing psalms, fasting — all while trying to preserve harmony with one another and keeping their thoughts and desires for God alone. It was an extreme expression of Christian devotion that arose in the aftermath of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD.
In my reading I read about a novice who seemed nonplused about how these monks spent all their time since all their efforts when toward interior work. He asked an aged father, “What do you do all day?” The father answered, “Fall down and then pick myself up.” His point was that the battles he confronted inside his head were unrelenting and required ongoing vigilance, patience, and self-forgiveness.
The power and simplicity of this monk’s answer attests how even great men of God fought many battles inside their minds and sometimes fell down. In some ways the fierce interior struggles of the person who is tapering can be likened to this. Feelings of failure and sometimes even assault can overwhelm the person who is tapering and there is a temptation to allow these destructive feelings to upset the progress of the future course. At moments such as this, it is imperative to access your helpful self and rise up and hear yourself say (as the elderly monk did), “I have fallen down; now I must pick myself up.”
There will be many moments when you will feel all is hopeless; that you are incapable of succeeding; that your body is too compromised to ever recover from this. Insofar as you are able, speak peace to yourself in these moments. The Scottish sailor, Andrew Barton, was a High Admiral of the Kingdom of Scotland of whom it was written in an early ballad:
I am hurt but I am not slain.
I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile
then I’ll rise and fight again.
If need be, attend to yourself as the wounded warrior, take time to bleed awhile. Then pick yourself up, put on your boots. There are more battles to be fought. Take your time. Help yourself get through them. Be patient. But keep getting back up.