8 Essential Lessons On Living A Meaningful Life, From A Monastery

mbg Contributor By Dorothea Gundtoft
mbg Contributor
Dorothea Gundtoft is an award-winning author of three international fashion and design books (Real Nordic Living, New Nordic Design, and Fashion Scandinavia) published in 45 countries and translated into ten languages.
8 Essential lessons on living a meaningful life from a monastery

I recently spent six weeks living in monasteries following a painful divorce, and the experience completely changed my perspective on love, faith, and purpose. (You can read more about it here.)

During my stay, I met one nun in particular who had a profound impact on me. She has dedicated her life to God for over 20 years and lived in monasteries across the world, from Rome to Jerusalem. We've stayed in touch, and our check-ins have helped me find an increased sense of peace through this particularly difficult time.

Here are a few well-being lessons that I have taken away from our conversations, in case they're helpful to you, too. Those who do not follow a monotheistic religion can ascribe her advice to spirit, the Universe, or any other higher power.

1. Our journey is always challenging but constantly evolving.

It would be a lie to say that everything in life is beautiful. One thing for sure, though, is that love is always within us, as God never gives up. Try to see everything through the eye of the heart, which is the true beauty of life. Try to see your journey as a daily challenge—full of surprises and emotions. Add humor to your job, no matter what it is.

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2. Prayer can help anyone rediscover gratitude throughout the day.

Even if you're not religious, praying several times a day can restore focus and calmness.

Monastery nuns follow the church's liturgy, which means that they start with Lauds, the sunrise prayer where they thank God for a new day. The midday prayer, called Sext, is at noon, and the evening prayer is Vesper. Vesper, which takes place at dusk, gives thanks, out of gratefulness, for another day. The nuns say that sleep is the experience that closest resembles death, so the last prayer, called Compline, is a night prayer that protects sleep.

The most important aspect of praying is to focus on gratitude for every single lesson—immense or minute—in your life. 

3. God is not an individual but a universal feeling of belonging.

Nuns believe that God is within every one of us, and we can only meet love through interacting with others. There's such power in a smile, a look, a handshake, a word. Every interaction with others is an exchange, and it's an opportunity to spread happiness and peace of mind.

Even through the darkest hour of your life, trust that there's someone or something around you. You're never alone.

4. Listening is the key to understanding.

Many of us are so used to speaking that we've forgotten to listen to what others think. This is one reason the world is split up. Everyone wants to be right and do what feels suitable for themselves only. Now is the time for a change so that we can all live in harmony, and change starts with listening.

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5. Fear is the opposite of love.

One of the most important lessons I've taken away from our conversations is to learn how to be calm, even when in disagreement with others. Reactions of anger are bred from fear. We must slowly learn how to listen to other people's opinions rather than our own and to meet everyone with a smile, simply because a smile can change someone's day.

6. You can dedicate your life to love by doing the things that light you up.

You know in your heart when you're fulfilled with happiness. Pay attention to what activities make you feel that way, and do more of them.

From this place of happiness, you'll be better able to spread a positive message, even though it will be a challenge in a world where everyone lives such a consumed life (that's precisely why it makes such a difference in the end). Start by performing your job with love and not out of duty. Use your free time to visit people in need, those who are ill and lonely.

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7. Constantly wanting more can make you forget to appreciate what you already have.

People are experiencing burnout because they always want more. We are all driving ahead without stopping. But it's important to look around and notice your surroundings.

These days, materialism runs rampant and we all always want to become "better" versions of ourselves. But the more we have, the more we want.

8. Love yourself, and you will eventually have everything.

And finally, the ultimate lesson: You're loved, just the way you are. And if you love, then you will have everything. Love is so great that it will always forgive, again and again.

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