The Monk Keys

February 5, 2015General Health

Bike path to heaven

A bare chested, long haired chap bikes daily along Kauai’s only highway, wearing only a wild ecstatic smile and shorty shorts.
Mr BeanHe’s biking the stairway to heaven, arms outstretched as if bidding some universal force to beam him up; but at least he’s not beheading anyone, right?

Which brings me to extremism. Extremism outrages me; maniacal religious sects, overly-zealous zumba, far right and extreme left. I prefer the death defying middle ground where I perform thrill seeking activities like extreme baking – all my cakes hover on a knife edged precipice of charred and flat. Exciting huh?


My newest friend, Brother David Steindl-Rast, is a more judiciously spiritual Benedictine monk who practices extreme gratitude. I asked him why he thought people were religiously over the top, their dogmas and atrocities doing the dance macabre in the glare of YouTube – something we’re all trying to make sense of.

“Extremism starts above the eyebrows and focuses on an ideology. True spirituality focuses on experience.  So the idea is to help people bring their consciousness into the whole self.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast

“Thank you, that’s excellent Brother David,” I say. “Enough yucky-ness. I’m going to immerse myself in the squeaky niceness of a glowing spiritual path.” But apparently, that’s just another excess.


Terrible things happen all the time. People get sick, they die, there’s grief, pain, arguments and bad hair days – some days I wake up with a Trump-over. Not pretty.

Non acceptance of the tough stuff means we’re denying life, which causes more internal conflict. But, the answer Brother David says, is not blowing in the wig, it’s in the practice of grateful living.

“If you were depressed, you wouldn’t say you were grateful for depression but you might ask yourself, what’s the opportunity  for me in this situation. For instance, I would be grateful to learn something about myself,experience growth because of it, and understand others who are depressed,” says Brother David.

And he knows because believe it or not, and you’ll find this surprising if you’ve ever encountered Brother David anywhere in the world, this Austrian born, sweet, humble 88 year old doyen of grateful living, actually said that he was not always happy.

“I have suffered off and on from depression. I admire happy go lucky people but that’s not typically me. But I am joyful. Joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.  That joy is about saying yes to life in all its forms, and yes to the opportunities that life offers here and now.”

Therapy’s underrated

PsychiatristBut what about those of us who have that niggling feeling that something’s missing, that every presenting potential partner is a penny short, or a foot short, or there’s scant cash for cowboy boots and a matching steer? We could be like Woody Allen and say, “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”

My solution, like Woody’s, is therapy. My preferred therapy is shopping. And by the way, anyone who says that money can’t buy happiness hasn’t been to Saks Fifth Avenue.

But how does one do it, feel grateful in every moment when every moment is less than attractive? Take being over 50. Yesterday I went to the beach and I could feel all these guys dressing me with their eyes.

“People who are unfulfilled are not in tune with life, therefor they want to fill themselves up with something else like food or consumerism. Being grateful is not about feeling thankful about something that happens once in a while. Every moment is the most valuable thing anyone can give us. It’s a free gift; no money can buy another moment.  Being aware of the abundance of life in the present fills us up and spontaneously arouses gratefulness,” says Brother David.

A body great and full

2852665_s[1]Gratefulness even has an effect on our health. Take heart attacks for instance. University of Connecticut researchers studied people who’d had one heart attack. Those who saw it as having some value, such as making them appreciate life more, had a significantly lower risk of having another heart attack.

A friend of Brother David’s, Professor of Psychology, Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, has been studying the effects of gratitude for some years. He found that it has a positive effect on strengthening the immune system, enhancing quality of sleep, reducing pain, improving digestion, and enhancing brain power.


Who's that bloke with Brother David?

Who’s the bloke with Brother David?

Benedictine monks mostly stay put in their monastery contemplating their inner pearls. (Brother David is a senior member of the Mount Saviour Monastery in Elmira, New York.) However he’s been lecturing around the world since the sixties, a time when he got caught in the Zen-osphere.

“The appearance of Buddhist and Hindu monks created curiosity. Were they monks in the same sense? I started reading about them and was amazed at how similar their training was to ours.

“I decided to meet with a young Zen Buddhist monk at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I thought, if we didn’t have much to say at least we could enjoy oriental art together. We had an immediate connection and sat on a bench and talked for hours. He invited me to come to a Zendo he’d just opened in the city.

“When I first entered the Buddhist monastery I felt so at home that I had to remind myself that I was not in my Trappist monastery. We had so much in common at a deep and human level. Their traditions expressed something deeper that we all share, which is spirituality. Western traditions are more focused on the word and Buddhists focus on silence; a whole dimension of spiritual life that we don’t do. I felt very much at home in silence.”

If you ever have the opportunity to do a workshop with Brother David, don’t miss it! As Gary Feidel, co-founder, treasurer and Board member of, says, Brother David has an energy you just want to be around.

“The simplest things become alive to him. Walking along a street he would draw attention to all kinds of things; he’d be surprised at the way water ran down a hill. In a supermarket he’d be awed by how beautiful the lines of fruits and vegetables would look,” says Gary.

Right now, I’m grateful for the sun and rain on the wild orchids outside my window as I write, and for my ears, because without it, my body would have no shape.

Directing traffic

Mad trafficNext time you think of a problem, consciously remember to think of a gift that this challenge may have brought. Brother David has a simple device; “Stop, Look, Go“.

“What inclines us to miss the beauty of each moment is that we rush along in our usual manner, so we have to stop and interrupt the flow of automatic responses. Next we have to look at what life is saying to us right now. We see the presenting opportunity and go, that is, take the opportunity to respond to life.

As a gift for yourself today, listen to A good Day. It’s free, and something to be grateful for.








  1. I love your sense of humor, Jeanette! Wonderful article about a wonderful man. You didn’t tell me you did this. Please keep me abreast of your articles from now on!

    Comment by Sherilyn Wolter — February 5, 2015 @ 5:59 pm

  2. Hey J,
    Really enjoyed your article on Br David. What a gem. So good to be reminded of the little things for which we can be grateful.
    Go well.

    Comment by Brian — February 5, 2015 @ 7:56 pm

  3. Great wisdom there, Jeanette, but surely your cooking can’t be that bad!
    Or if it is, be grateful you’re not finding that fact out on a ‘reality TV’ cooking show!

    Comment by Marie — February 5, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

  4. Such a wonderful reminder of what is important in this life we live. Thank you

    Comment by Cindy — February 6, 2015 @ 1:55 am

  5. Jeanette a wonderful article filled with great wisdom, awareness and humor. It helped my day tremendously to appreciate all the wonderful beauties and people in my life.

    Comment by Malia Crain — February 6, 2015 @ 7:20 pm

  6. Thank you for the way you put words together with a lighthearted touch and make the experience enjoyable as well as worth while.

    Comment by Gary — February 7, 2015 @ 10:15 am

  7. What a fantastic article Jeanette, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and got a lot of great reminders of what I should be focusing on right now in my life, Thank you!

    Comment by Tina — February 7, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

  8. It’s a good reminder, thank you!

    Comment by Irma — February 26, 2015 @ 8:29 pm

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< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Journalist – The Age newspaper, Herald Sun newspaper, various magazines

< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Author –

< ! [if !supportLists] >o < ! [endif] >The Natural Health Directory, A Discerning Guide to Leading Medical and Non Medical Practitioners in Victoria, (Hill of Content Publishing, 2001)

< ! [if !supportLists] >o < ! [endif] >DVT deep vein thrombosis, The condition you don’t have to have, Co author Monica Jane Shalit (Pennon Publishing, 2002)

< ! [if !supportLists] >o < ! [endif] >Biography, Maxine Fensom, Maxine Stripped Naked, Tales from the sex industry (Pennon Publishing, 2004)

< ! [if !supportLists] >o < ! [endif] >Managing Aches and Pains (B Jain Publishing, 2010)

< ! [if !supportLists] >o < ! [endif] >Defeat Sleepless Nights (B Jain Publishing, 2010)

< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Entrepreneur – Health forums

< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Slightly nutty – This is good because nuts are good for you

< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Long-term consumer of natural health services

< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Advocate for the pursuit of good health

< ! [if !supportLists] >- < ! [endif] >Mother – Wonderful 23 year old daughter

More about me and my work