You probably found this post through Facebook. And there’s a strong chance you’re on your phone. There may be people around, there may not. We all do it these days. 

Even alone, how many of us simply cannot resist the urge to check our phone or turn the TV on? We are uncomfortable with silence. The habit has become so strong that to simply be, to sit without a distraction, to contemplate the world around us is exceedingly difficult. 

Thomas Merton, an American, Catholic monk of the 20th century, argued,

“…contemplation must be possible if man is to remain human. If contemplation is no longer possible, then man’s life has lost the spiritual orientation upon which everything else – order, peace, happiness, sanity – must depend.”

Even before the advent of the smartphone and our hyper-connected world, he saw the challenge of being caused by modernity and its values.

“We must face the fact that the mere thought of contemplation is one which deeply troubles the person who takes it seriously. It is so contrary to the modern way of life, so apparently alien, so seemingly impossible, that the modern man who even considers it finds, at first, that his whole being rebels against it. If the ideal of inner peace remains attractive, the demands of the way to peace seem to be so exacting and so extreme that they can no longer be met. We would like to be quiet, but our restlessness will not allow it. Hence we believe that for us there can be no peace except in a life filled up with movement and activity, with speech, news, communication, recreation, distraction. We seek the meaning of our life in activity for its own sake, activity without objective, efficacy without fruit, scientism, the cult of unlimited power, the service of the machine as an end in itself.”

Merton continues:

“The life of frantic activity is invested with the noblest of qualities, as if it were the whole end and happiness of man: or rather as if the life of man had no inherent meaning whatever and that it had to be given a meaning from some external source, from a society engaged in a gigantic communal effort to raise man above himself. Man is indeed called to transcend himself. But do his own efforts suffice for this?

The reason for this inner confusion and conflict is that our technological society has no longer any place in if for wisdom that seeks truth for its own sake, that seeks the fullness of being, that seeks to rest in an intuition of the very ground of all being.”

Arguably, it’s all true. Many will push back against it, but not because it is false, but because they still believe in the goals of the current order.

But what if you don’t? How do you find peace in being while navigating and living in a technological society with goals and values in conflict with yours?

That is the challenge for many. It seems exceedingly difficult for an individual to pull it off alone. Perhaps new forms of community will be required or simply the rediscovery of the old ways and traditions while modifying them for the now.

Whatever the case, Merton is quite right about the difficulty of the task for those who desire it. Those who attempt it must have the fortitude, the strength of will, and most importantly the firm belief in the righteousness of their cause to succeed.

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