Seeking the Light
by Thomas Merton
Humanity was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, rest.
That activity, which is contemplation, is immanent and it transcends the level of sense and of discourse. Our guilty sense of our incapacity for this one deep activity is the reason for our very existence, and is precisely what drives us to seek oblivion in exterior motion and desire.
Incapable of the divine activity which alone can satisfy the soul, fallen humanity flings itself upon exterior things, not so much for their own sake as for the sake of the agitation which keeps our spirit pleasantly numb. We have but to remain busy with trifles; our preoccupation will serve as dope [a drug]. It will not deaden all the pain of thinking; but it will at least do something to blur the sense of who we are and of our utter insufficiency.
Pascal sums it up: "Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries and yet it is, itself, the greatest of our miseries."
Why? Because it "diverts" us, turns us aside from the one thing that can help us to begin our ascent to truth. That one thing is the sense of our own emptiness, our poverty, our limitations, and of the inability of created things to satisfy our profound need for reality and for truth.
What is the conclusion of all this?
We imprison ourselves in falsity by our love for the feeble, flickering light of illusion and desire. We cannot find the true light unless this false light be darkened. We cannot find true happiness unless we deprive ourselves of the ersatz happiness of empty diversion.
Peace, true peace, is only to be found through suffering, and we must seek the light in darkness.
From The Ascent to Truth by Thomas Merton (New York: Viking, 1959, © copyright Abbey of Gethsemani 1951), pp. 24-25.