Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thoughts on Activity, Contemplation, and Liberation (From Thomas Merton's "Raids on the Unspeakable")

He who is spiritually "born" as a mature identity is liberated from the enclosing womb of myth and prejudice. He learns to think for himself, guided no longer by the dictates of need and by the systems and processes designed to create artificial needs and then "satisfy" them.

This emancipation can take two forms: first that of the active life, which liberates itself from enslavement to necessity by considering and serving the needs of others, without thought of personal interest or return.

And second, the contemplative life, which must not be construed as as an escape from time and matter, from social responsibility and from the life of sense, but rather, as an advance into solitude and the desert, a confrontation with poverty and the void, a renunciation of the empirical self, in the presence of death and nothingness, in order to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of "being nothing".

The man who dares to be alone can come to see that the "emptiness" and "usefulness" which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth.

It is in the desert of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory. When this is faced, then anguish is not necessarily overcome, but it can be accepted and understood. Thus, in the heart of anguish are found the gifts of peace and understanding: not simply in personal illumination and liberation, but by commitment and empathy, for the conteplative must assume the universal anguish and inescapable condition of mortal men.

The solitary man, far from enclosing himself in himself, becomes every man. He dwells in the solitude, the poverty, and the indigence of every man.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)