“Insulated By Thick Layers of Insensibility”

“Where men live huddled together without true communication, there seems to be greater sharing and a more genuine communion.  But this is not communion, only immersion in the general meaninglessness of countless slogans and clichés repeated over and over again so that in the end one listens without hearing and responds without thinking. The constant din of empty words and machine noises, the endless booming of loudspeakers end by making true communication and true communion almost impossible.  Each individual in the mass is insulated by thick layers of insensibility.  He doesn’t care, he doesn’t hear, he doesn’t think. He does not talk, he produces conventional sounds when stimulated by the appropriate noises.  He does not think, he secretes clichés.”

Thomas Merton.  New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 54

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  1. Jeff, I read this post yesterday, and I’ve been wondering. What is it about this quote that resonates with you just now and/or how does it affect you? Is it a all to action or change? Does it make you feel hopeful, convicted, mournful? Obviously,only share what your comfortable with, but I’m curious? – jn

    • Hey, Julie…I’ve been reading through Seeds of Contemplation again, and for whatever reason, it strikes me as some of the truest stuff I’ve ever read. More of an intuitive resonance than a rational agreement. This quote strikes me as a bit of a warning, “heads up”, a point of attention and awareness. With as much information coming at us as we have, I feel the temptation to join in the fray in less than thoughtful ways. There’s a mob mentality that woo us (or at least, can woo me), so that I want to spout the same 3 steps to success or 10 steps to a better this or that. It’s hard to think, really, and consider various points of view, especially when issues are so polarized. So for me, Merton quote is a call to be vigilant about our awareness and sensibility. Not sure what the call to action is, but I’m not sure deeply plugging into the world or information and/or social media is that helpful sometimes. Certainly there are great nuggets to mine, especially if we consider the other side questions. But I sense that confirmation bias rules, and we don’t spend nearly enough time simply listening to the stories and perspectives of the other. Far too uncomfortable. Anyway, I didn’t ponder long in posting this. It struck me like this, and I thought I’d put it up to remind me to stay aware. How does it strike you now that you’ve thought about it. Man, I miss you. Just sayin’…Jeff

      • It’s been a long time since I dipped into the New Seeds of Contemplation (20 years?), but Thomas Merton has been on my mind these days. I’ve developed a curiosity about Christians who have been influenced by Buddhism and/or have incorporated Buddhist practices into their spiritual lives. In answer to your question, the quote above stuck with me after I read it. I kept thinking about it, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. It struck me as true, but it left me wondering what Merton meant by “true communication”. What does that look like and how is it fostered? What is the alternative here? It would probably be clear to me if I let go of my laziness and went back to re-read the Seeds of Contemplation myself in it’s entirety rather than waiting for snippets to pop up on blogs I follow or in my Facebook feed. Merton would probably not consider 140 character exchanges “true communication”.

        Just for kicks, here’s a quote from New Seeds of Contemplation that I keep close and meditate on from time to time. Other than the author, it has little to do with the quote you shared, but there is nothing I love more than a good quote swap.

        “Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint… They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems or possess somebody else’s spirituality.”

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