2023-01-30 The Seeds of Contemplation

Do you have the patience to allow your seeds to grow?

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus advised that good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. One must have a protracted and patient effort to develop good character and anything else worthwhile.

Similarly, in the classic Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke stressed, “There is no measuring with time, not even a year matters, and ten years are nothing.” To be an artist is to neither reckon nor count; to ripen like the tree, which does not rush its sap. But it comes only to those who are patient and there, as if eternity lay before them, so carelessly silent and vast.

Although contemplation does not only require patience, it also requires courage. The practice of contemplation is not free of challenges. “Let no one hope to find an escape from conflict in contemplation,” observed Merton, “from anguish or doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions.”

Contemplation, whether from a spiritual perspective like Merton’s or a philosophical one like Aristotle’s — shapes how one navigates the world. To quote the mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, we shall reap what we plant in the soil of contemplation in the harvest of action.

According to Merton, “Everyone is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.” We are usually not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves. Contemplation is not and cannot be a function of this external self. Contemplative practices help us realize that our highest ambition is to be what we already are.

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