Is there to be found on earth a fullness of joy, or is there no such thing? Is there some way to make life fully worth living, or is this impossible? If there is such a way, how does one go about finding it? What should one try to do? What should one seek to avoid? What should be the goal in which one's activity comes to rest? What should one love? What should one hate?
What the world seems to value is money, reputation, long life, achievement. What it seems to count as joy is health and comfort of body, good food, fine clothes, beautiful things to look at, pleasant music to listen to. What it seems to condemn is lack of money, a low social rank, a reputation for being no good, and an early death.
If people find that they are deprived of what the world seems to value, they panic or fall into despair. Sometimes it seems they are so concerned for their life that their anxiety makes life unbearable, even when they have the things they think they want. Their very concern for enjoyment makes them unhappy, and they seem to drive themselves in order to get more and more which they cannot really use. They appear alienated from themselves, and exhaust themselves in their own service as though they were slaves of others.
I cannot tell if what the world considers "happiness" is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness.
My opinion is contentment and well-being at once become possible the moment one ceases to act with them in view, and if you practice non-doing, you will have both happiness and well-being.
Here is how I sum it up:
Heaven does nothing, its non-doing is its serenity
Earth does nothing, its non-doing is its rest
From the union of these two non-doings
All actions proceed
All things are made
How vast, how invisible
All things come from nowhere
How vast, how invisible
No way to explain it
All beings in their perfection
Are born of non-doing
Hence it is said:
"Heaven and Earth do nothing
Yet there is nothing they can not do"
Where is the person who can attain
To this non-doing?
- T. Merton, abridged and adapted
Sean Monsarrat, © 2021