The Contemplative Experience – 8 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Contemplation in a World of Action
by Mark Votava
1. Judging others
“The act of judging is an act by which we set ourselves apart as unique, as ‘outside’ the common run of beings, as something totally special and apart, taking a godlike view… of men and events. We ask questions, we ‘have problems,’ we seek to make ‘authentic decisions’ because we believe in this mystification, this spurious and romantic ‘identity’ of the self that stands apart and affirms itself by judging others. As long as man thinks that the solution of his ‘identity crisis’ consists in achieving this capacity for self-assertion, we can have no peace…”
2. The crisis of identity
“The crisis of identity which is everywhere normal in adolescence has become a grave problem in America extending far beyond adolescence and through young adulthood. Possibly there are many who never really resolve this problem in our society. One of the characteristics of ‘mass society’ is precisely that it tends to keep man from fully achieving his identity, from operating fully as an autonomous person, from growing up and becoming spiritually and emotionally adult.”
3. Reexamine all our practices
“A merely external practice of silence and enclosure will never do anything by itself to guarantee the inner transformation of consciousness which the contemplative life requires. We have to reexamine all our practices with a seriousness willingness to admit that our present conceptions may simply be inadequate. They need to be made much deeper and much more alive – and perhaps given an entirely new perspective. In this way we will show ourselves truly alert to the new needs of a new generation, aware that in this alertness we are being open to grace…”
4. The contemplative experience
“…the contemplative experience is in touch with what is most basic in human existence.”
5. The ground of one’s being
“The notion of ‘rebirth’ is not peculiar to Christianity. In Sufism, Zen Buddhism and in many other religious or spiritual traditions, emphasis is placed on the call to fulfill certain obscure yet urgent potentialities in the ground of one’s being, to ‘become someone’ that one already (potentially) is, the person one is truly meant to be. Zen calls this awakening a recognition of ‘your original face before you were born.’”
6. Discover unique present meaning
“Imagination has the creative task of making symbols, joining things together in such a way that they throw new light on each other and on everything around them. The imagination is a discovering faculty, a faculty for seeing relationships, for seeing meanings that are special and even quite new. The imagination is something which enables us to discover unique present meaning in a given moment of our life. Without imagination the contemplative life can be extremely dull and fruitless.”
7. Not been trained to pay attention
“But we are not paying attention because we’ve not been trained to pay attention…”
8. Safer, vaguer, broader
“Indeed, very often you find that the word ‘contemplative’ is a safer, vaguer, broader and more discreet word for ‘mystic.’ Mystic seems to be a more scary word than contemplative. People hesitate to use it…”
Have you discovered your identity in the depths of your being?
My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!
“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism
My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!
“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline… without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.” Shane Claiborne, author and activist