Even in the desert, free of all distraction, away from commotion and rid of clutter, Simon suffers from a wandering mind and restless heart. He is constantly interrupted. In the arid wilderness of Egypt, Simon experiences a dry and barren desert within. He is not alone. Many who fled to the desert had such an experience. Even without TV, tablet, phone, family, co-workers, neighbors, e-mails, daily tasks, traffic and enticing entertainment, we can get distracted. With all that we fill our days, we too feel a void.
Amma Syncletica warned that beginning the spiritual journey or even starting a new spiritual practice is always difficult and filled with many obstacles. We try to pray, but we find no words. We give something up only to find it back in our hands. We try meditation, but we can't find peace of mind. We try reading the Bible or a devotional book, but it doesn't speak to us. Even after spiritual disciplines are well-practiced, monastic masters complained of distraction and a desert or "darkness of the soul," to use St. John of the Cross' phrase. The things we always did to find faith, hope and peace don't work any longer. While often rich and rewarding, the spiritual life involves struggle.
The advice given for these difficult moments is simple and perhaps not what one wants to hear. That is, stay the course. In the words of Proverbs, "Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you." Stay committed to the practice. Be faithful to the discipline. Keep praying. Try again. Continue listening. Read on. Be firm in your commitments.
There is real spiritual wisdom in the advice: "fake it 'til you make it." Keep on as if it works...until it does. You may not feel you are advancing. You may think it is all hard work and no reward. But then, when you least expect it, God happens. Then, as Syncletica says, there is "ineffable joy."