“[Self-understanding] begins by renouncing the illusory reality which “created things” acquire when they are seen only in their relation to our own selfish interests.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Written March 2020
As I ponder this reading from Merton, I am thinking that he is using the ideas of “reality” and “value” almost synonymously. That which we view is only as real as we assign value to it, according to our selfish interests. Value is a most personal decision, still… influenced by culture. I value that which is highly valued by others, such as gold or jewelry, and I most value that which is meaningful to me personally, despite others’ opinions.
And the greater I value something, the greater its existential reality in my world. I only nurture that which is real and of some value, and I only nurture that which ultimately benefits me. Ergo, selfish interests.
The obvious question is this: “Is it possible to value a thing that has no impact on me?” The first answer is an absolute Yes. I value health and freedom in Uganda. I value love that has nothing to do with me, like my son’s love for Maggie. In these situations, I seem to openly value quality of life issues.
Value Determines Perceived Reality
But for certain “things” in life, I value only what I like, and the greater the value to which I assign them, the greater their reality in my life. I am thinking of my clothes, car, and home. These are very real to me, are deeply valued by me, and yet, at the end of the day possess virtually no spiritual value. They are merely valued and considered real because they match my own selfish interests.
Hermits, on the other hand, are, by nature, afforded many fewer opportunities—in truth, nil—and even fewer possessions. They have a bed, a cassock, pen and paper, books, and food. Not much else is really needed in life, is it? Unless one is not a hermit but an active member of society. Then so much more seems needed.
I Like What I Like
As a member of the world certain possessions are essential—transportation, garments, housing, food, books, and computer. And then we have opportunities for the leisure activities of hobbies, eating out, movies, and TV. While I enjoy all these luxuries, I am finding in this quasi quarantine of 2020 an opportunity to reduce my involvement in activities outside my home. Perhaps my time of sequestered solitude a few weeks ago prepared me for longer stints of “quarantine.”
Back to the beginning thoughts. For me the virtual reality of things is founded upon the value to which I assign them. The more I value something the greater its reality in my life. That which I devalue, essentially does not exist except as an intrusion or annoyance.
Do You Only Value
What Matters to You?
Photo courtesy of arsenisspyros at istockphoto