This bit of writing by Thomas Merton from the first chapter of his book “The Inner Experience” is a piece that I can relate to in an intense way. Merton writes very clearly about many aspects of awakening. He talks about God and Christ from his Catholic perspective but he is one of the few writers and this is one of the few books that I have read where it is very clearly stated that the experience of God is beyond the conventional religious concept. The possibility to experience this deeply spiritual transformation in consciousness is possible for all through faith ( awareness of the limits of the the ego) inspired effort. Ultimately it is an act of grace that we are able to experience a deeper awakening.
” Man in our day, menaced on all sides with ruin, is at the same time beset with illusory promises of happiness. Both threat and promise come from the same political source. Both hell and heaven have become, so (they say), immediate possibilities here on earth.. It is true that the emotional hell and the heaven with each one of us carries about within him tend to become more and more public and common property. And as time goes on it seems evident that what we have to share seems to be not so much one another’s heaven as one another’s hell.
For the desire that we cherish, in the secrecy of our soul, as our “heaven”sometimes turns when offered as a solution to common problems, into everybody’s hell. this is one of the curious features of twentieth century civilization and of its discontents.
Into the midst of this moral and emotional chaos, popular psychologists and religious teachers, men of pathetic optimism and good will, have rushed forward hopefully to announce their message of comfort. Seldom concerned with the afterlife,whether good or evil,as it befits men of our time, they want to set things right for us here and now. They want us at all costs to be inspired and uplifted. They fret over our distressing tendencies to see the dark side of modern life, because they are able to imagine that it has a light side somewhere. Have we not after all made the most remarkable progress? Is the standard of living not rising every day, and is not our lot becoming better and better, so that soon we will have to work less and less in order to enjoy more and more? With a dash of psychological self-help and a decent minimum of religious conformity, we can adjust ourselves to the emptiness of lives that are so blissfully devoid of struggle, sacrifice or effort. These willing counsellors want to revive our confidence in all the gestures of bourgeois good feeling which will magically turn pain into pleasure and sorrow into joy because God is in His Heaven and all is right with the world.”