Back in the 1960′s, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton wrote,
Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.
He went on,
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
from ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ by Thomas Merton*
I have spent most of my 60+ years being ‘carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns.’ If the internet and email and work haven’t been enough, there has also been my natural desire to be valued by my peers and my unshakeable belief that my ‘value’ is rooted in my accomplishments, real and imagined.
Believing that, I get carried away.
Meditation provides an opportunity to step away from being ‘carried away’ and from the ‘violence’ that follows it. Through meditation we can experience our lives, experience the ‘multitude of conflicting concerns’ that our minds are always speaking, and reflect on life without acting.
A Quiet Place is the blog of a weekly silent meditation group that I started on the Reed College campus in Fall 2012. You can read about meditation here. You can also join us in the Eliot Hall chapel for meditation (our meditation periods are open to all members of the Reed community and their guests – drop-ins are welcome).
Or, you can simply pause wherever you may be … and reflect on the fact that whatever your economic status, nationality, religion, politics, color, gender, or academic interests and attainments, you exist in this moment because there is love in the Universe. (first posted Aug 28, 2013*)
*This is an updated version of the very first post on this blog. Two errors in the original have been corrected here: the title of Merton’s book is “Conjectures…” and not “Confessions…”, and the passage opens with an acknowledgement of Douglas Steere and his influence.