The Paradox of the Illuminated Way – 6 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation edited by William H. Shannon

by Mark Votava

81MA-v3wVDL1. Bearing with problems until they solve themselves

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves.  Or until life itself solves them for you.  Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory exterior self.  The solution of most such problems comes with the dissolution of this false self.  And consequently another law of the contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or worse still, happiness, you will find neither.  For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced.  And again, this means renouncing the illusory self that seeks to be ‘happy’ and to find ‘fulfillment’ (whatever that may mean) in contemplation…”

2. Solitude is necessary for spiritual freedom

“Solitude is necessary for spiritual freedom.  But once that freedom is acquired, it demands to be put to work in the service of a love in which there is no longer subjection or slavery.  Mere withdrawal, without the return to freedom in the action, would lead to a static and deathlike inertia of the spirit in which the inner self would not awaken at all.  There would be no light, no voice within us, only the silence and darkness of the tomb.”

3. The awareness of mystery

“…the sacred attitude is one which does not recoil from our own inner emptiness, but rather penetrates into it with awe, reverence, and with the awareness of mystery.”

4. The creative energy of love

“In active contemplation, a man becomes able to live within himself.  He learns to be at home with his own thoughts.  He becomes to a greater and greater degree independent of exterior supports.  His mind is pacified not by passive dependence on things outside himself – diversions, entertainments, conversations, business – but by its own constructive activity.  That is to say, that he derives inner satisfaction from spiritual creativeness: thinking his own thoughts, reaching his own conclusions, looking at his own life and directing it in accordance with his own inner truth, discovered in meditation and under the eyes of God.  He derives strength not from what he gets out of things and people, but from giving himself to life and to others.  He discovers the secret of life in the creative energy of love…”

5. Leave familiar and conventional patterns of thought and action

“When one is called into the darkness of contemplation, he is called to leave familiar and conventional patterns of thought and action and to judge by an entirely new and hidden criterion: by the unseen light of the Holy Spirit.  This of course is, from a certain point of view, fraught with great risk…”

6. The paradox of the illuminated way

“The paradox of the illuminated way is, then, that the awakening and enlightening of the inner man goes with the darkening and the blinding of the exterior man.  As our inner spiritual consciousness awakens, our exterior… consciousness is befuddled and hampered in its action.”

Which quotes do you like the best?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.

51DJfJVBpBL (1)