Finding the Source

Most people associate the creative with the lush, the prolific, the fertile, the rich.  Contemplation or meditation as the Trappist Monk Brother Paul Quenon describes it in “Alone and Together” sounds like the opposite:   It “is too poor, too empty, and obscure.  It is mostly an entrance to and abiding in the emptiness of Christ.  And that largely without being aware that it is Christ’s emptiness.  Gradually one ceases to think of it as one’s own as well. “

It sounds bleak.  Trappist monk, who received his novitiate training under Thomas Merton, makes his calling and his mentor Merton’s calling sound like an exile in the desert—going beyond comfort and hope,  in which “the self and its sense of well-being, or lack thereof, is incidental.”  The strange thing is that Brother Paul is a prolific writer and by many accounts a wonderful, happy, engaged human being—and so was his famous mentor.

Brother Paul, who wake up at 2:40 in the morning to start his meditation in Vigils at 3:00 a.m. , asks what he is doing.  This is a good question–especially because this good kind human being senses that what he needs is something “too pure and brief for me to dwell on.”  What he really needs—what we all really need—is a connection with life that is intimate and true.  We need to know that we are accepted by God and by life as we are.  As Brother Paul puts in a journal entry included in his essay: “the truth of my name is already spoken in the silence….”

Or as I have thought of it far more folksy, slangy terms:  “sometimes God likes to get us alone.”   I have been in a few deserts in the course of my life, most of us have—stretches of life not going according to plan, times of not knowing what would come.   These stretches can lead to a very intimate contact with your life–this naked contact is essential to a truly creative life.

Did you ever wonder why a soul like Merton–overflowing with creativity and a wish to serve—would enter a Trappist monastery?   Into the desert Brother Paul goes—and finds that the detachment and freedom that opens the flood gates of creativity.  He quotes a spare little poem by his mentor Merton called “Song for Nobody” –“A yellow flower/(light and spirit)/sings by itself/For nobody.”

Merton might have been describing a scraggly flower on the gravel path to his hermitage, according to Brother Paul, yet its song contains “the grandeur and the poverty of interior prayer.”    Brother Paul makes the point that true creativity begins when we stop caring in an ordinary way—when we stop caring about being a success in the eyes of the world.  Brother Paul offers the example of Emily Dickinson, who lived like a nun and didn’t care at all about success or publication.  For Dickinson, poetry was a way of meditating or contemplating: “Thought belongs to Him who gave it.”

The word contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplatio. Its root is also that of the Latin word templum, a piece of ground consecrated for the taking of auspices, or a building for worship, derived either from Proto-Indo-European base *tem- “to cut”, and so a “place reserved or cut out” or from the Proto-Indo-European base *temp- “to stretch”, and thus referring to a cleared space in front of an altar.  The Latin word contemplatio was used to translate the Greek  word θεωρία (theoria).

To contemplate or meditate is enter an empty space (the root of the word sacred means to set apart).  As Merton famously said real prayer is learned in the hour when easy wordy prayers are impossible).  I have been writing in this space about the importance of letting go and letting be.  Now I am adding the importance of daring to enter the desert, of daring to be poor and obscure and maybe even a little crazy in the eyes of the world.   Dare to be useless and incoherent.  As Thomas Merton said:  “If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”

Life can be like this:  Just when we’ve given up hope of finding a way out of the desert we may come upon a spring.   Just when you have accepted that scorn of the world or your parents or mentors—just when you are too parched and tired to care about anybody’s judgments, you may find a deep well.   It happens at the point when you go beyond all the noise—let them call you a lunatic, a bum, an extra and thoroughly unwanted human who doesn’t pull her weight,  someone too impractical, artistic, mystical, unrealistic (you may add your favorite salt to the wound of being you).   It happens when you stop needing assurances and praise.  You will sink into a stillness below the words, and remember the simple vibrant, naked sense of being alive.   And then you may find the source, the wellspring.  No one knew to tell you it was there—no one knew.  No one but God, and now you.

12 thoughts on “Finding the Source

  1. There is being a success, and then living successfully. I know a lot of people who are living successfully, abundantly even, in family, in friendships, in relationships at many different levels. Christ once said something like; I came that you might have life, and have it more abudantly. So, what is living an abundant life? I think that it is a life of sharing and serving, of being and letting go. The opportunity to do that is presented to us everyday in the relationships we have with others. It’s right in front of us everday. Now, that’s something to wake up to everyday of our abundant lives. When we can see and appreciate the mystery of this at work in our lives clearly, when we can reach that clarity, then we have reached nirvana. Don’t you think so too Tracy?

    1. I agree with you, Ron. And I also think we are living in a time when success is beginning to be radically reinterpreted by many people (not just old hippies, like me). More people are turning away from success-as-consumption–success-at-any-price to an appreciation of the impact we are having on the earth and on each other. I see this happening, don’t you? The idea of our interdependence–and the notion of living in connection–is not so far fetched…not just for monks and poets. Don’t you think so? May it be so.

  2. It is so Tracy, it is so. Even now we find success through cooperation and our interconnections with one another. We need to focus the power of cooperation and and interconnection on specific visions and mission. The good news is that we do this already at many different levels now. We know how to make it happen, we are actually quite good it. ;-)

  3. Lovely piece, thank you. I believe the “more abundantly” that Christ speaks of is the greater expression of the Christ within our beings. He demonstrated the way..”I Am the way, truth and the life.

    1. I tried to think of this film yesterday and had a senior moment, although if 60 is the new 40, perhaps I’m in better shape than I imagine.

      In the film I AM, film maker Tom Shadyac look’s at what is wrong with the world. However, in the process of trying to figure out what’s wrong he discovered there’s more right than he ever imagined. “He learned that the heart, not the brain, may be man’s primary organ of intelligence, and that human consciousness and emotions can actually affect the physical world, a point Shadyac makes with great humor by demonstrating the impact of his feelings on a bowl of yogurt. And, as Shadyac’s own story illustrates, money is not a pathway to happiness. In fact, he even learns that in some native cultures, gross materialism is equated with insanity.

      Shadyac also discovers that, contrary to conventional thinking, cooperation and not competition, may be nature’s most fundamental operating principle. Thus, I AM shows consensus decision-making is the norm amongst many species, from insects and birds to deer and primates. The film further discovers that humans actually function better and remain healthier when expressing positive emotions, such as love, care, compassion, and gratitude, versus their negative counterparts, anxiety, frustration, anger and fear. ”

      Ultimately, the source we are looking for is the divine connection or interconnection within us all, found in relationship with one another and the world, with all of creation. We need to make a major paradigm shift in how we think about one another and how we think the world works, of course this is what Christ and the Buddha taught and offered, a new way of thinking. If you would like to learn more about the film, here is a link.

      When you look at institutions that are good at forming a specific vision and mission, think of nonprofits, you can see how their definition of success is completely different from others, placing value on our many interconnections. By staying focused on what they wish to do, and executing it well, they find success through serving others. They offer something of great value to the society and culture in which they dwell. Parabola is a great example. I could name many others.

      In Buddhism, this concept of our interconnectedness with life, all life, reality itself, out of which our lives arise, is called Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising, Pratītyasamutpāda in Sanskrit. The Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, calls this concept “Inter-Being”, in his book, The Heart of Understanding, where he teaches that “To be” is to inter-be, and that “we cannot be alone, exist alone without anything else.”

      In Christianity, there is a remarkably similar and beautiful concept, it is found in a marvelous Greek word used by the early church fathers and mothers, to describe the mystery of the Trinity. It is the word, Perichoresis (peri-kor-es-is). Perichoresis is an ancient term in Christian theology, which refers to the indwelling of the Trinity, of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so intimately connected within their unity as one that there is an indwelling between them all. And that this indwelling is shared in and through Christ, in the Paschal Mystery of Christ as the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh. Christians see the mystery of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Presence, dwelling within us all, interconnecting and binding us together with one another.

      This also makes me think of something else said by Thomas Merton; “we do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”

      We find it in relationship with on another, within creation, within the divine energies of creation and the divine love of creation that sustains us all. When we awaken and realize this truth, this way, this light; then embracing an abundant life becomes much easier. Indeed, we are called to live such a life in all its abundance. Peace.

      1. Thanks, Ron. This is beautiful. I agree with Merton. We do find the meaning of life with others. And even if we seek to live the simple life of a hermit, as Merton did, we dwell among others–past and present, inwardly and outwardly. We are always influenced and influencing, always inter-being. Peace

  4. Hi Tracy

    Now I am adding the importance of daring to enter the desert, of daring to be poor and obscure and maybe even a little crazy in the eyes of the world. Dare to be useless and incoherent. As Thomas Merton said: “If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”

    This is why I have such a high regard for Simone Weil. I believe through her I’ve have the experienced of the evolved female heart which men such as me are very appreciative of. The expressions of her heart were not a result of what Gurdjieff called internal considering but just having “awakened” to reality.

    Her heart gave her the force to pursue freedom from Plato’s cave. Her mind had made her aware of her psychological prison and her purity of heart allowed her to sacrifice the “goods” of Plato’s cave for the sake of freedom from it. Purity of heart provided emotional recognition of levels of reality and the evolutionary drive to leave the lower for the experience of the higher.

    Plato taught the relationship between the world of forms or of knowledge as that which is the source of our phenomenal world of opinions. Simone “felt” the need to transcend the world of opinions so as to experience the world of knowledge or the source of opinions.

    Her need wasn’t for success within Plato’s cave but the conscious truths revealed through becoming free of its restrictions that provide the experience of objective human meaning and purpose.

    Simone Weil and Thomas Merton were born in France 6 years apart – 1909 and 1915 respectively. Weil died shortly after Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani. It is unclear whether Weil knew of Merton, but Merton records being asked to review a biography of Weil (Simone Weil: A Fellowship in Love, Jacques Chabaud, 1964) and was challenged and inspired by her writing. “Her non-conformism and mysticism are essential elements in our time and without her contribution we remain not human.”

    He then quotes Weil directly: “Blessed are they who suffer in the flesh the suffering of the world itself in their epoch. They have the possibility and function of knowing its truth, contemplating its reality…”

    Weil’s friend Gustav Thibon said of her,

    “Such mysticism [as Weil experienced] had nothing in common with those religious speculations divorced from any personal commitment which are all too frequently the only testimony of intellectuals who apply the things of God. She actually experienced in its heart-breaking reality the distance between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing with all one’s soul’, and one of the objects of her life was to abolish that distance.”

    Weil, Simone, An Anthology, ed. Sian Miles, London: Penguin Books, 2005.

    No hearts and flowers or “we are all one” here that serve to glorify the cave. Just a purity of heart that recognizes the human condition and the inner direction towards freedom that enables the knowledge of the mind together with the whole of oneself to lead to objective truth within the world of forms that transcends the world of opinions we are attached to through identification which in turn denies its truths.

    1. Thanks, Nick. May we all dare to really enter life, not just think about it, as Simone did. May we all have nonconformist hearts.

  5. In this Ground of Being”
    Consecrated to God,
    “Bethal, a.k.a. Elizabeth”
    Hears the words pronounced,
    “Accepted by God, and by Life”
    All around
    In and out
    Above and below,
    Inner and outer
    Stretching infinitum.
    Joined to all beings
    Sustained and nurtured
    In the Vine,
    Sharing and receiving
    In the mysterium
    Called Life.

    Inspired by this blog,
    B. stock

      1. Thank you, Ron,
        Life is going very well, and I am glad you are a part of it!
        I hope you are doing well too.

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