"What does it mean when you promise someone? That no matter how hard or whatever may come..."
The Finn Brothers WON'T GIVE IN
We live in a time of great anxiety, a time marked by global financial uncertainty and domestic political polarization. Any middle ground of reason is quickly deteriorating and little commonality of voice is to be found in any topic outside of how poorly the NFL substitute referees performed last month. It has become a great paradox that our technological interconnectedness has done little if anything to strengthen our spiritual connectedness to one another. Our relentless forward thrust for more and better has had the effect of insulating us from the present and dulling our ability, in a abstruse way, to feel. Rather, we move continually onward without a clear destination or purpose other than to keep moving. For many it has created a spiritual dead zone in which they find themselves surrounded by scores of people they barely know, profoundly alone, forsaking any true fellowship, and seeking validation through the quality and number of their possessions.
But let's not worry about that today.
Recently I've reading a lot of, and about, Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk in a Kentucky monastery during the 1950's and 60's. He wrote copiously about living a quiet and contemplative life, and the importance of compassion for and understanding of the needs of others in fulfilling our purpose here on earth. Our capacity to live contemplatively was a gift, said Merton, the outward sign of a spiritual awareness that we are alive, and all that all potential that exists in this world exists within us. Merton maintained that we can not fully express our potential as spiritual beings if what we strive for is to exist alone. That it is only within the umbrella of relationships with others that we are fully alive. Our true self is not what we perceive, but rather that which is reflected back toward us by others. To Merton, the increasing societal ill he saw was the reflection of an increasing alienation of people from each other at a fundamental spiritual level.
The modern definition of the phrase "Contemplative Living" is an outgrowth of the Merton philosophy. Contemplatives seek a mindful awareness of their actions. They seek a slower, more determined approach to living, a life unfettered by needless distractions and activities. They actively seek to deepen their understanding of self and their relationships with others. Contemplatives accept that we all are different, that we all are fragile and flawed. Contemplatives endeavor to live with a genuine appreciation for the successes of others, and act with open compassion when others suffer. Contemplative living is compassionate living. When we live contemplatively, our everyday life becomes our spiritual life. Each and every day we consciously attend to our relationships. The outcome is a deepened awareness of our connectedness to one another and to the earth on which we live. It demands from us a deeper communion with others. Contemplative living is a powerful catalyst for change that leads us to a sense of increased well-being, gratitude, and a keener respect for life.
For many of us its hard enough just getting along in this world without having to be responsible for everyone else at the same time. Its a busy place out there. There just isn't time to slow down. But therein lies the beautiful subtlety of contemplative life. For it asks not that we slow down, it asks only that we act deliberately, thoughtfully. It asks that we forego the meaningless activities in our lives and focus on the meaningful. For many of us this is a simple matter of prioritizing our days. For others it requires a bit more introspection than we want. For some the contemplating part- the thinking of thoughts, is a scary proposition. Contemplation requires an openness, a simple honesty that sometimes brings to the fore situations and memories that we find too tough to deal with. It also requires a simple acknowledgement that we are not alone in this world- that we have debts owed and debts owed to us. In our society we like to think of ourselves in the singular but more often than not a plural is more appropriate. In truth I find great comfort in knowing that everyone I love is here. It has led me to realize that I need to drop my pretense and be more honest in my dealings with friends. It has also led me to understand that I need to further foster a couple relationships with some old friends that I've let lapse. But mostly it has allowed me to realize how many beautiful people I have in my life and how truly grateful I am that they consider me a friend. And it has freed me to focus on the things that are truly important in my life and drop the meaningless activities that were nothing more than time wasters. Each day becomes a joyous occasion, a chance to celebrate.
I've said previously that I do not believe in God, which is true. But I believe very strongly in the existence of spirit and the connectedness of all living things. It is my belief in this connectedness that has brought me to this place. And if that is true, then our relationship with other human beings is the single most important aspect of living there is. I'm convinced that this communion of spirit is what makes us human, what gives purpose to our sentience. For without it we are truly alone in this world. And to be alone on such a big planet, for so long a time seems, well- humanly impossible...