A breakdown is not merely a random piece of madness or malfunction; it is a very real — albeit very inarticulate — bid for health and self-knowledge. It is an attempt by one part of our mind to force the other into a process of growth, self-understanding and self-development that it has hitherto refused to undertake. If we can put it paradoxically, it is an attempt to jump-start a process of getting well — properly well — through a stage of falling very ill.
In the midst of a breakdown, we often wonder whether we have gone mad. We have not. We’re behaving oddly, no doubt, but beneath the agitation we are on a hidden yet logical search for health. We haven’t become ill; we were ill already. Our crisis, if we can get through it, is an attempt to dislodge us from a toxic status quo and constitutes an insistent call to rebuild our lives on a more authentic and sincere basis. It belongs, in the most acute and panicked way, to the search for self-knowledge.
The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers, (Winter has given them gold for silver To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their banks) From different throats intone one language. So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without Divisions of desire and terror To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger smitten cities, Those voices also would be found Clean as a child’s; or like some girl’s breathing who dances alone By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.
For this reason, the purest acts of faith always feel like risks. Instead of leading to absolute quietude and serenity, true spiritual growth is characterized by increasingly deep risk taking. Growth in faith means willingness to trust God more and more, not only in those areas of our lives where we are most successful, but also, and most significantly, at those levels where we are most vulnerable, wounded, and weak. It is where our personal power seems most de- feated that we are given the most profound opportunities to act in true faith. The purest faith is enacted when all we can choose is to relax our hands or clench them, to turn wordlessly toward or away from God. This tiny option, the faith Jesus measured as the size of a mustard seed, is where grace and the human spirit embrace in absolute perfection and explode in world-changing power.
If you want others to be more loving, choose to love first. If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your own inner world. If you are working for peace out there, create it inside as well. If you wish to find some outer stillness, find it within yourself. If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God far beyond you, also. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God. By ourselves, we are fairly blind.
This crisis is centered precisely in the country that has made a fetish out of action and has lost or perhaps never had the sense of contemplation. Far from being irrelevant, prayer, meditation and contemplation are of the utmost importance in America today. – Thomas Merton
I shall not believe you if in your next letter you tell me there’s nothing wrong with you. It is perhaps a more serious change, and I should not be surprised if you were a trifle low during the time it will take you to recover. In the fullness of artistic life there is, and remains, and will always come back at times, that homesick longing for the truly ideal life that can never come true.
And sometimes you lack all desire to throw yourself heart and soul into art, and to get well for that. You know you are a cab horse and that it’s the same old cab you’ll be hitched up to again: that you’d rather live in a meadow with the sun, a river and other horses for company, likewise free, and the act of procreation. And perhaps, to get to the bottom of it, the disease of the heart is caused by this; it would not surprise me. One does not rebel against things, nor is one resigned to them; one’s ill because of them, and one does not get better, and it’s hard to be precise about the cure.
“In the fullness of artistic life there is, and remains, and will always come back at times, that homesick longing for the truly ideal life that can never come true.”
I do not know who it was who called this condition-being struck by death and immortality. The cab you drag along must be of some use to people you do not know. And so, if we believe in the new art and in the artists of the future, our faith does not cheat us. When good old Corot said a few days before his death-“Last night in a dream I saw landscapes with skies all pink,” well, haven’t they come, those skies all pink, and yellow and green into the bargain, in the impressionist landscapes? All of which means that there are things one feels coming, and they are coming in very truth.
And as for us who are not, I am inclined to believe, nearly so close to death we nevertheless feel that this thing is greater than we are, and that its life is of longer duration than ours.
We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel the truth that we are of small account, and that we are paying a hard price to be a link in the chain of artists in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than the cab horse that hauls a coachful of people out to enjoy the spring.
So what I wish for you, as for myself, is to succeed in getting back your health, because you must have that. That “Espérance” by Puvis de Chavannes is so true. There is an art of the future, and it is going to be so lovely and so young that even if we give up our youth for it, we must gain in serenity by it. Perhap it is very silly to write all this, but I feel it so strongly; it seems to me that, like me, you have been suffering to see your youth pass away like a puff of smoke but if it grows again, and comes to life in what you make, nothing has been lost and the power to work is another youth. Take some pains then to get well, for we shall need your health.