I've been reading Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, which is my new favorite book - ever!
"Living with other people and learning to lose yourself in the understanding of their weaknesses and deficiencies which are also your own - is not only the way to perfection in general but even helps us to become true contemplatives."I've been intrigued with the contemplatives lately. When I heard of Richard Rohr's Center for Contemplation and Action, it made sense why. Contemplation leads to action. We need both. We either contemplate totally and burst from gluttony, or we act too much and become so empty that we have no gas in the tank. This quote of Merton's shows the necessity in a shared life and how it also requires contemplation. We all have weaknesses. We cannot live alone and thrive. I learned this while working on probation. Most of the women I worked with were isolated (or, at least they said they were). Staying away from bad influences is not the way to overcome our addictions. It helps as a band-aid, but it does not allow us to know our True Selves by living in relationship with others.
When we live by ourselves, and do not socialize with others, we cannot become formed into who we were meant to become.
Gary Thomas wrote a couple of books on how we are shaped by living with others. One is Sacred Marriage and the other is Sacred Parenting. The premise of both is that marriage and parenting is not meant to make us happy but to make us holy. I currently have three scalpels living in my home right now. They are forming me into my True Self. One is sharper than the other two this week, but they all take turns. Going back to Merton, when we lose ourselves in understanding others' weaknesses, we see our own, and we become merciful with them because we see how much we need mercy for ourselves!
Then I saw this by Eric Fromm:
" The deepest need of men is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness".This says the same thing but uses the word prison, which resonated with me. One of my passions right now is the lack of corrections in the "Federal Corrections Institution". If aloneness is a prison, and aloneness does not shape us, why are we locking people up alone instead of getting them the help and support in the way of a supportive community, group, or people that they need???? Oops - you can tell by the amount of question marks that my hands were pressing very hard on the keys during that one.
Lastly, here is another thought from a Twelve-Step Recovery program:
"I isolated because I was afraid to let anyone know me - I never felt that I belonged or fit anywhere... Being part of a group allowed me to open up... We isolate to avoid rejection because we think that hurts worse and are doing more harm to ourselves."If you or anyone you are close to is a Twelve-Stepper, you know that that is their home away from home. There is an overwhelming sense of peace that pours over you when you walk into the room of your people. The goal of these programs is to end isolation because that is the disease. Addictions are diseases of isolation and it keeps us living in shame. How is a prisoner going to heal when all she does is sit by herself and think about what a horrible person she is. Like the kids who got sent to the corner in school to stand there while everyone else stared at them. That is not restorative justice, it is retributive justice. One brings us closer to who we were made to be and the other separates and punishes and makes smaller. The last sentence of the above quote is spot on - we think rejection hurts worse than isolation, but risking rejection (being vulnerable) is one of the best things we can do for ourselves in our healing and recovery process! I just returned from a wonderful weekend with my college girlfriends and bearing our souls with one another was like taking boulders off of each other. Thanks, ladies!
Richard Rohr, in his book, Breathing Under Water, reminds us that restorative justice (the one we need in prisons) restores relationships with themselves, with God, and with others. Sorry, I have to add another quote of his:
"Studies now show that threat and punishment are the least effective forms of social change or long-lasting improvement. They are efficient yes, but not effective at all... One has to wonder, do we really want people to grow, or do we just want to be in control of the moment?"This speaks to me as a parent, who often errs on wanting to be in control of the moment, and sees the quickest way to dwindle the fire with a threat or punishment or isolating. It also speaks to me as a social worker, who wants to work for social change in order to end the isolation. Whether they are in isolation on their own choosing or because someone else is choosing that for them - it is not helping those who most need it - those who are homeless, without families, addicted or in prison. Lastly, it speaks to me as a Christian. All over Ezekiel, Yahweh punishes his people by loving them even more (Rohr). Wow.