Our Own False Self – 5 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – New Seeds of Contemplation

by Mark Votava

download (9)1. Not just the affair of a passive and quiet temperament

“Obviously contemplation is not just the affair of a passive and quiet temperament.  It is not mere inertia, a tendency to inactivity, to psychic peace.  The contemplative is not merely a man who likes to sit and think, still less one who sits around with a vacant stare.  Contemplation is much more than thoughtfulness or a taste for reflection.  Certainly, a thoughtful and reflective disposition is nothing to be despised in our world of inanity and automatism – and it can very well dispose a man for contemplation.”

2. Escape the prison of our own false self

“The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls…  And thus we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch, far from defiling, purifies us and plants in us something more of contemplation…”

3. Unity and solitude

“Man seeks unity because he is the image of the One God.  Unity implies solitude, and hence the need to be physically alone.  But unity and solitude are not metaphysical isolation.  He who isolates himself in order to enjoy a kind of independence in his egotistic and exterior self does not find unity at all, for he disintegrates into a multiplicity of conflicting passions and finally ends in confusion and total unreality.  Solitude is not and can never be a narcissistic dialogue of the ego with itself.  Such self-contemplation is a futile attempt to establish the finite self as infinite, to make it permanently independent of all other beings.  And this is madness.  Note, however, that it is not a madness peculiar to solitaries – it is much more common to those who try to assert their own unique excellence by dominating others…”

4. A society of salesmen, advertisers and consumers

“The contemplative life certainly does not demand a self-righteous contempt for the habits and diversions of ordinary people.  But nevertheless, no man who seeks liberation and light in solitude, no man who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salesmen, advertisers and consumers.  There is no doubt that life cannot be lived on a human level without certain legitimate pleasures.  But to say that all the pleasures which offer themselves to us as necessities are now ‘legitimate’ is quite another story.  A natural pleasure is one thing: an unnatural pleasure, forced upon the satiated mind by the importunity of a salesman is quite another.”   

5. See if you can accept poverty as God’s will for yourself

“It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent.  But if you want them to believe you – try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself.”

What quote do you like the best?

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


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