Turn Up That Monastery-o! Meet The New Monks, driven by digital and spiritual idealism

It's an era of great experiment - so much of it personal and experiential. The Millennial generation, and younger, are particularly prioritising their subjective lives - giving new strength to the old feminist phrase, "the personal is the political" (and of course vice versa). Who do we have to be, to get done what needs to be done? 

Yet human beings are social animals - it's hard to reorient ourselves entirely on our own. But what are the new constructed spaces and locations that can help us energise ourselves? Maybe they'll be a mix of old and new forms. 

Enter a phenomenon that we've been picking up from all over the place - the rise of the New Monks, and their New Monasteries. A place to go to get your head together and ready for the onslaught of the 21st century.

We first heard about it as a project from the radical network Edge Ryders a few years ago - here's the Unmonastery site, and here a profile from the British Council:

The unMonastery concept develops both physical and conceptual spaces to project a better future in which we wish to live together.  It seeks to enable greater participation in the construction of that collective vision.

It is envisioned as a place for people and groups on the fringes of society, who normally have no common interface (citizens of small towns on the periphery of Europe; nomadic web developers, artists, appropriate technologists, truth seekers), to interact and work together to address concerns both on the local and global scale.

The unMonastery model is executed through a collaging of existing resources:

  • unused buildings;
  • idealistic, highly skilled people who are reluctant or unable to join the job market;
  • open source culture;
  • design patterns for sustainable living with a view to addressing diverse contemporary issues such as depletion of a skilled workforce in remote areas, youth unemployment, the attrition caused by automation, the retreat of the state, sustainable development and social cohesion.

Our second pick up was from the trend network ProteinOS, who (already interestingly enough) brought out a consumer report on The New Spirituality a few months ago. As part of that, they wrote a blog on "The New Monks":

It would appear that social media platforms, our increasing dependency on smartphones, the invasive effects of technology combined with a constant bombardment of information have coalesced to create the New Monk. 

This growing group of people are using extreme travel practices to combat these factors while re-envisioning who they are.

The blog itemises some of these practices as "WWOOFING" (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), Vipassana meditation, and ayahuasca-taking. The emphasis is somewhat different to the Unmonasteries - these retreats are generally a recoil from a digitally over-connected age. 

A third monastic project to come to our attention is Metamonastery. At the moment it's little more than a proposal shared among a network of friends and peers (and in addition to the site, a Facebook page).

But Metamonastery actually splits the difference between Unmonastery and the New Monks. They are thoroughly interested in modern times. The group of thinkers that sit behind it go under the title of Metamoderna. They explore (with some originality and poise) the gap between our liberal, postmodern, anything-goes culture, and our desire for deep meaning and bigger stories.

And they think they need a specific kind of place to do that in - along these lines:

Inspiration: Schumacher CollegeEsalen InstituteInanitah

Example venues: TintinhullSedgefordFittleton

The debate about the kinds of spaces and places we need to develop ourselves, in order to cope with the radical times that our own human ingenuity generates, is interestingly pursued across these three projects.

We only wonder whether these monasteries can be around the corner from the city square, as many European monasteries already are - rather than rurally separated from the citizens, who may well need its contemplative or integrative powers the most.