Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Rila Deal (Rila Monastery, Bulgaria)

There is something decidedly special about being somewhere that many people have not. Over and over I read about the same places - Paris, London, know the rest of the list. Well, I'm here to tell you some important information...forget the list. It's not that these places don't have value, they do, in immense quantities, but it's worth taking the time to explore places that you haven't learned about just by nature of being alive. I knew what the Eiffel tower was and what Big Ben looked like before I knew exactly what they were, and why they might be important. The point is, when I got to those cities I was delighted, but I wasn't surprised.

There is immeasurable value in the moment of surprise.

In the misty foothills of Bulgaria lies a place you probably have never heard of, but need to know about. The Rila Monastery is astonishing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its age. It was founded in the 10th century, and it is the largest, most famous, and most coveted Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, and some would argue the whole region. This place is so important to the Bulgarian people that it is actually on the back of the 1 lev note.

And, how is it that I didn't know this until a few months ago? Well, I know now, in spades.

The monastery was founded by St. Ivan of Rila, a man who lived in a cave nearby with absolutely no material possessions while his students and disciples constructed the famed structure. Since its formation, almost every single Bulgarian ruler has made contributions to ensure it could continue to thrive and remain an important cultural icon. It has been visited by many important people,  even a pope. And, It has been rebuilt several times in its pronounced history, always with care and attention to detail. During prosperous times it was an example of Bulgarian tradition and ingenuity, and during periods of foreign rule, it was a refuge for the continued preservation of Bulgarian culture and life. Often described as "Bulgaria's Jerusalem," it is truly astonishing.

The frescoes on the central building were like none I had ever seen.


I think that what defines me most in this life is my boundless curiosity. I covet this. If I ever lose that, then I am decidedly doomed because it's what keeps me focused - what keeps me interested. And, I am lucky to be interested in a large variety of things. But, most of all, I am simply interested in learning new things. When I saw the Rila Monastery, I knew that, forever, it would be something I now, in some small part, understood. And no one could take that from me.

That means something to me.

Travelling, a push towards all that is out there that I have not yet seen, allows me to colour in all the blank pages of my mind. That is, where there was once nothing, now there is, decidedly, something. And knowing that there will always be something keeps me inspired. If I ever lose that inspiration, then remind me of this post, because a dull, ordinary life is what worries me most. But only in the abstract - because every moment I am on this earth, my entire life has been a battle against that very worry. My experiences, travelling, my knowledge - it's what makes me who I am, and ensures that I can continue to strive to become the person I want to be. It's visits to places like the Rila Monastery that let me know that I'm still on the right path.

There's a quote that I can't help but share considering all that I've written and thought about today. I've always found it worth remembering,  and, just maybe, you shall find the same.

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." - Plutarch 


  1. I love and share your inquisitiveness. And you're totally right, the discovery of something that was previously unknown to you, be it a place, a snippet of information, a word, or whatever it may be is the most pleasurable of experiences.
    The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask question and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. 'Who, what, where, why, when, and how!' They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.
    Sylvia Earle

    1. I could not agree with you more. I love that you noted that the best thinkers we have still maintain that childhood-like curiosity - well said! A healthy sense of curiosity cannot be underestimated. I have always identified with Neil Degrasse Tyson's philosophy, which is to try to strive each day to know a little more than you did the day before.