Tuesday, January 17, 2012

sweating under the mask

"Alienation begins when culture divides me against myself, puts a mask on me, gives me a role I may or may not want to play. Alienation is complete when I become completely identified with my mask, totally satisfied with my role, and convince myself that any other identity or role is inconceivable.

"The man who sweats under his mask, whose role makes him itch with discomfort, who hates the division in himself, is already beginning to be free."

-- Thomas Merton
The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton
edited by Patrick Hart
New York: New Directions, 1981, p 381


  1. It's interesting how "alienation" is used here as alienation from the self and falling into line with societies ideas "for" us....forgetting our own self(ves)along the way. Lots of pressure to "conform", follow along, don't squeak. This particular quote reminds me to remind myself how good it is that I'm doing the work that I'm doing finding my own way through the maze and the haze.

    This quote reminds me of Merton's essay Rain and the Rhinoceros which I seem to return to frequently.

    Thanks for the posting....Best regards...

  2. thanks for commenting, Robert.

    This quest for authenticity seems important to me, Robert, and central to what Merton was saying.

  3. I keep going back to that rain and the rhinoceros essay, too. there's something zen-ny about it (as in a koan). you can't say it directly, but you can get close enough to feel the breath of the rhinocerous on your back.

  4. To be authentic, to return to one's true self is one of the most worthwhile things we can do with our lives. Easier said than done, though.

    "Be the person that God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire." ~St.Catherine of Siena

  5. I agree about the easier said than done, Matt ... I've found it to be some journey, with a lot of ego-stuff to deal with, as well as deeper strange unconscious stuff. Centering Prayer has helped me a lot in being able to maneuver my way through this territory.

    I would like to read more of what Catherine of Siena has to say about this. Like, how did she find her way to this place of "being the person God meant her to be" ... Sometimes it's hard for me to find out what the saints are all about because they seem to be buried under pious language.

  6. It is indeed most challenging to empty ourselves of our egos. I wish there was another way, other than dying to our self-centeredness, in the spiritual journey (which, for me, is the same as the journey we take to be authentic human beings).

    I agree, though, that contemplative prayer, such as Centering Prayer, could really help us in unmasking the illusions that we have and in with dealing with the ego-stuff in our lives.

    Although we have the saints, like St. Catherine of Siena (or spiritual mentors like Thomas Merton), to encourage us and give us pointers in our journey, in the end, to quote the words of one of my Zen teachers: "Each us must find his/her own way."

  7. Yes this work is a roller coaster but so worth it. This might sound odd but what has been helping me is to be cautious in my own thoughts about "the journey", "the path" and thinking in such terms. It's been helpful for me to try to realize the I'm not trying to go anywhere, that where I am is where I'm supposed to be each day. I guess in some ways I'm not much of a metaphor person. They seem to fog up my understanding. I guess in a way I just want to be better at being right here. The saints like the ones mentioned in the other comments are of help and necessary and each one a gift. One that has meant a great deal to me over the past couple of years is "Saint Lax". He stands as an example of someone who seemed to be at such peace with the whole thing of life and that the parts that remained a mystery to him he didn't much seem to worry about.

    Another thing that I've been working on that seems to help is that so much of this is, as they say, hard to put into words or hard to put into a language that is helpful. I believe that is true to a large degree so I've quit trying to do that for myself. That's where the Saints help so much since they already did about as good a job as anyone could. So, instead, I try to go with the feelings that come up when I read or listen and just try to settle in with whatever that all is. I also like the "quiet" that that has brought to my life.

    I enjoyed the comments above. Thanks for all.

  8. I love St. Lax too, Robert. And I like your ideas of getting off the path/journey.

    As for words, for the last several years I have let go of speaking (publicly, at least) about "god", because I realize that the articulation seems to be going in a wrong direction. I can't talk about god, I can only meet god. The relational aspect of this meeting seems to overwhelm the subject/object aspect (if any of that makes any sense).

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. Yes, what you said makes perfect sense to me. It seems that if we're busy talking then we're not busy listening. If I try to have a discussion with someone about such things it seems that I get caught up trying to figure something out. If I refrain from such activities it seems that little gifts come along although I don't know when they come along, I just realize that something shifted for me.I can't talk about God either because how can I or why should I try to talk about something I'll never figure out. I don't get the sense that there is a need for me to figure God out, I've got my hands full trying to figure me out. The thinking tends to lead to worrying if I've got it "right" (ego storm) whatever "right" could be/mean. That's one of the things I found so helpful via Lax. There is a humorous peacefulness that seems to come through him. He makes me laugh. His faith seemed to carry him along so nicely but he didn't make much of a deal about it. That was so helpful for me to see.

    A bit long winded (for a listener).


God speaks

God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger. — Thomas Merton, Emble...