A Time To Be Unborn – 8 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Raids On The Unspeakable

by Mark Votava

download (10)1. To be an outlaw

“To be a contemplative is therefore to be an outlaw…”

2. If we think our mask is our true face

“…if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities – ‘selves,’ that is to say, regarded as objects…”

3. An act and affirmation of solitude

“The discovery of this inner self is an act and affirmation of solitude.”

4. A time to be unborn

“Now, since all things have their season, there is a time to be unborn. We must begin, indeed, in the social womb. There is a time for warmth in the collective myth. But there is also a time to be born. He who is spiritually ‘born’ as a mature identity is liberated from the enclosing tomb 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.”

5. An escape from time and matter

“…the contemplative life, which must not be construed 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 the ‘uselessness’ which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth.”

6. No deserts

“The problem today is that there are no deserts…”

7. The usefulness of suckers

“We still carry this burden of illusion because we do not dare to lay it down. We suffer all the needs that society demands we suffer, because if we do not have these needs we lose our ‘usefulness’ in society – the usefulness of suckers. We fear to be alone, and to be ourselves, and so to remind others of the truth that is in them.”

8. A little more doubtful

“I am beginning to realize that ‘sanity’ is no longer a value or an end in itself. The ‘sanity’ of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscle of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane… perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally ‘sane’…”  

Have you found yourself in a process of being unborn in life?

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