“Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting. For he cannot go on happily for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul. If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person. He no longer lives as a man.” — Thomas Merton
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try the best you can, not to let
the wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
We’re a busy and a noisy species. Our chatter and distractions keep us pinned to the surface of ourselves. Silence and solitude are fearful things. Facing ourselves is the last thing we want, but here we are, in a global timeout. Strategies abound for ways to handle staying home without going around the bend, but we will fend off looking in the mirror until the cows come home.
Why? Why do we insist that self reflection is morbid? What’s so fearful about looking in the mirror of our own mind?
I think this little recess affords us a chance to learn something. The world is living a life we hardly take note of because we’re too busy. And we want to stay busy. Keeping busy is seen as a healthy thing. Stillness is to be avoided at all costs. Social distancing is painful.
I’m an extreme introvert so I’m not bothered by keeping the madding world at bay, but my mind is cluttered with the detritus of modern life no less than the most extroverted businessman or woman. Any modern day human needs to find ways to foster mental space. As Merton says, few people are hermits but everyone needs a way to be quiet enough to listen to their true self, the one not formed and controlled for the sake of appearance.
Eastern cultures have long recognized the importance of meditation, a practice that has a thousand permutations. There’a debate as to whether it’s best to force the mind to be quiet with various techniques or whether it’s better to simply watch one’s noisy mind without judgment, following its endless tricks and camouflages. The first thing you learn when watching your mind is how little you know about yourself. Our minds are full of cliches and the repetition of shopworn and unoriginal ideas. We are full of mental trash heaps. We could use a good daily house cleaning.
This is new territory for us. This global shutdown offers some of us a chance to enter a quieter space. Stepping off the treadmill where we have been running in lockstep with millions of others gives the world a chance to catch its breath and reassess how it lives on the planet. Our craziness can be seen quite easily externally, but now we have the chance to see who we are inside as cause and result. We may discover the seeds and roots of our neuroses and deformations and illnesses. We’re not just subjects of this sick culture, we are also the creators of it.
Our shoulders are pressed to the wheel of a destructive mechanism. We need to stop and reconsider what that means about us.
I don’t know about you, but I for one, want to contribute to a vibrant, healthy, beautiful and inspiring world . I’d rather not help create a world that destroys nature or kills people for money. I’d rather do nothing rather than the wrong thing. That’s why I think this massive slowdown is a good thing, but I realize there are people ready to give up the ghost for the market.
This occasion gives us the chance to be more intelligent. It is also an occasion to throw a spotlight on our stupidity. It’s a time of global payback for our heartless treatment of the natural world.
Karma pays a visit. We would do well to watch and learn.
- Anima Fire is my publication