I really enjoy the writings of Thomas Merton and those he has influenced, such as Thomas Keating. He has a way of writing that does not seem to revolve around any single profound idea, yet you find yourself profoundly influenced by a hundred little ideas that pepper you as you read his books. Earlier, I wrote that his book, No Man Is An Island, was one of the books that has influence me the most. So it was only natural to follow that up with New Seeds of Contemplation.
I’ll be honest, there is much in this book that is very personal and I am not ready to process in public space. In Merton’s own words, contemplation “cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized.” All this is very personal and unique to each individual.
Yet there is one very simple idea that I keep coming back to. It is not even a central idea, but its’ echoes are insightful. It is an idea that speaks especially to our virtually connected world of social media. It is this:
One of the first things to learn if you want to be a contemplative is how to mind your own business. Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform others.
I had to read it several times to get past the initial bluntness of this spiritual directive: Mind your own business. Yet what he is addressing is the gut response to a new, challenging idea to rush off and enlighten everyone else before fully internalizing it, letting it really sink in and begin to shape the way you live.
One of the areas this wisdom seems especially appropriate is in the area of social media. It seem anymore like I cannot peruse my Facebook news feed without being told what I should think, eat, wear, support, or be in a panic over. Social media is a great way to keep in touch, network, and even share ideas. But it is not the best way to really influence and shape another person. That is best left to discussion, personal interaction, and conversation. Mind your own business.
It is also much more effective to let others observe the way a cause or idea has actually shaped your life, which is Merton’s point. As others observe the change in your life, there will be opportunities to share soon enough.
And yes, I realize the irony of pointing all this out in a blog post! But I do so with the same intent as Merton’s words of wisdom. Thus, everything else in New Seeds of Contemplation I will continue to process through and keep to myself for now.