“Because the very process of condemnation is another form of conditioning what is. If one would understand the whole process of the self, there must be no identification, condemnation, or judgment, but an awareness in which there is no choice – just observation. If you attempt it, you will see how extraordinarily difficult it is. Because all our morality, our social and educational training, leads us to compare and to condemn, to judge. And the moment you judge, you have stopped the process of inquiry, insight. Thus, in the process of relationship, one begins to discover what the ways of the self are.” (Krishnamurti)
The many sayings of the Desert tend to be short, sweet, and direct. For example, “Go into your cell and your cell will teach you everything” is one of those. Surely there is no instruction that is clearer? And yet so much is left out. It is a saying, a teaching, that must be lived to be understood. Being still, being stuck, on our own without ‘entertainment’ is a difficult, sometimes boring, sometimes horrible thing to do.
It is also a step taken in faith. I surrender all my activities, all my plans, all my power and become spiritually immobile (sometimes physically as well). This place where I am ‘stuck’ where I am poor in spirit is my cell, and it will teach me everything.
So what is a cell? I could answer that by adapting Jesus’ words and say that where I am poor in spirit there is my cell.
In my experience there are three types of concentric cells, each moving closer to a center, The Center. They are the cell of place, the cell of time, and the cell of self.
Cell of Place
This is the more common understanding of the word ‘cell’. It is a place I go to physically. It can be a jail cell as a punishment or a monk’s cell. Even though they are quite different places, what defines them is the knowledge that they are deliberately apart from the community.
When I enter my cell I have chosen to turn my back on the commonwealth of people. What do I seek there in this cell? At a minimum I seek an entrance into the second cell, paradoxically as it sounds. I seek to be able to be present to and with God.
There are some austerities to this cell, as with every cell. ‘Austerities’ are another technical word which mean the proper alignment and execution of relationships. The Cell of Place requires physical rootedness. In extreme we would talk of solitary confinement, but a good example of the Cell of Place would be the writings of Wendell Berry.
Cell of Time
There is much literature on the need to be in the ‘now’, this is a standard trope of all spiritual disciplines. Some words used there are the distinctions between ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’, a horizontal versus a vertical component of time. When I make a decision to enter the cell of time, I am choosing the ‘now’ more than the ‘when’.
The austerities of this cell deal with our relationship to time. On a trivial level, for example, in this cell you cannot look up the weather forecast! In fact, ‘forecast’ is forbidden here, as much as bringing a prostitute into a monk’s cell in Athos would be forbidden.
Cell of Self
To fully enter into the third cell the austerities of the first and second cells must be fully embodied. A good exercise in identifying our absorption of these is to ask ourselves “what if I am stuck in this particular place and time forever?” Just as it is. No change possible. Once we get over the horror of such a thing, and begin to find acceptance, then we uncover the third cell.
There are ‘selves’ in the other cells, but they are discardable. The language is to call them ‘false’ but they are not false in the sense of untruth or even lies. There is no moral judgment to be passed on these selves. They are, perhaps, better thought of as veils, layers of clothing. The closer we are to the center cell the closer we are to the Source of Light and Life, and thus heat. It makes good sense to drop some layers no? No violence needed, no self-reproach. Why would you reproach your rain jacket, which served you well outside in the rain, when you come into the house? You just take it off and hang it to dry.
Of importance to note is that none of these cells need to be geographically bound. Even the cell of place can move! Jesus went off away from people and disciples. It was not always the same place. It was a way to have a mental and physical opportunity to come closer to His Abba. This mobility of cells leads me to a deeper understanding of the saying I started with. I am capable, right here at work, in the supermarket, wherever, to enter into my cell(s) and engage all that is happening to me from that place. I bring into the fold of my cell the young lady at the checkout counter, or my colleague at the cube next door, or my child across the dinner table.
Within my neighborhood I have places with few people, and places with lots of people. Places that are noisy and places that are quiet. This moves my cell from being simply a room set aside and makes it into a spacious room for my intentional communion with God revealed through Creation.