The Mean Mystic

I am almost at the end of New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, and it has me thinking. That’s not surprising, of course, while one is reading a great spiritual thinker. Two of my favorite points he makes are, and I paraphrase; to be a contemplative starts with minding your own business, and that controversy is antithetical to the contemplative. Probably those appeal to me because I occasionally fancy myself as above human concerns (pure fantasy btw), and therefore human activity and (ugh) small-talk are anathema. It is probably little surprise then, that I dread the (far too sudden) total and chaotic “reopening” that California is undergoing at the moment.

Before you start thinking I am some curmudgeonly misanthrope (too late, I’m sure, if you know me), I like persons. I like persons a lot. One of my favorite things about bartending is having an unexpected conversation with someone about something that interests me. But I am really dismissive to people, and hold them in contempt. Sometimes I lump persons into people, especially if I feel pressure behind the bar or am in a mood. I put up a wall. I get mean.

I remember reading about Merton, I believe it was in The Seven Story Mountain, that his friend advised him he didn’t really want to be a hermit; he wanted a hermitage in the middle of Times Square that had a neon sign that said HERMIT. I can relate. That’s why I have a blog about these topics, my little neon sign on the internet.

I know deep-down that to be standoffish to one’s fellow humans is the thing that is actually antithetical to contemplative life. Perhaps, one day, I will get to a place where I have more kindness and forbearance. I am hoping that not being hungover and sleep-deprived all the time will help- we’ll see. In the meantime I will try and remember, when I tire of small-talk (and especially the booby-traps of current conversation), that we’re all created to be what we are created to be, and not everyone has the same interests. Besides, if everyone just talked about things I was interested in, then I wouldn’t be special, would I?

The “unknown friend”, author of Meditations on the Tarot, makes a distinction between the mystical experience of the “Christian mystic” versus the “Eastern mystic”- that the former seek to keep some sort of individuality by dissolving into Love while the latter seeks to lose individuality by dissolving into Oneness. While this could certainly be argued by someone well versed in “Eastern mysticism” (a label so broad as to be almost meaningless), I am challenged by the idea that “capital L” Love might just be the missing ingredient in my journey. I am not sure how to get there, though. I am thinking the way forward involves shedding my resentments, learning to love myself first and then expanding that to the rest of the world around me. That’s what I am attempting at least. While I hope to mind my own business and avoid controversy in these polarized times, it’s just as important to realize that the reason for that is to avoid being perturbed by one’s fellow human, and not to avoid them altogether. What good is a mean mystic, after all?