As I read from the journals of Thomas Merton I am reminded of his daily struggles as he lived his life. I began reading the books of Thomas Merton when I was 19 years old. Even as a young man I quickly felt a connection with him and his words seemed to often reflect my own feelings. In later years I realized we had similar personalities and that many of his struggles were also my struggles.
We all struggle although some people are unaware of their own struggles. They plow through life and don’t reflect too much on their experience. Those of us who are more introspective types often tie ourselves up in knots as we constantly ruminate on the meaning, or lack of meaning, in our lives. The writings of Richard Rohr have taught me that whoever and whatever we are only gets deeper and more intense as we get older. Today I am more who I am than I was ten years ago. Unfortunately this also means that many of my insecurities are more ingrained.
Much of my life I thought I was “normal” until I realized there was no such thing as normal. Although I have never thought I was better than anyone else, I have always felt different than most other people. Over time I’ve come to believe and understand that all lives are complex even if an individual doesn’t realize or accept their own complexity.
What are my struggles? Like Merton I’ve always had a longing for the “other”. On a spiritual level I suppose this is a longing for God. It could also be a longing for meaning. As I have gotten older the idea of God has gotten very blurry for me. Who or what is God? I no longer know. The pious spirituality of my childhood doesn’t work for me anymore. Another struggle is that something about me seems lacking. I never feel as though I am enough as I am. Why have I not been more successful in life? I am not talking about job titles or paychecks. For me true success is about happiness, contentment, and feeling valued and loved by others. I probably should feel all of these things but most days I simply don’t. I also have a fear of being ordinary and not making a difference. I have a strong need to matter and not be taken for granted. In addition, retirement has added a fear of being forgotten. All of this makes me think I am much more insecure that I ever thought. I have always thought I was a strong person because I have been able to deal with the true challenges in my life and I’ve had patience with life’s inconveniences. I get impatient with people who are emotionally fragile and unable to deal with things.
In spite of my struggles I do have the capacity to recognize those Zen moments where life is perfect, if only for a brief time. We all sometimes want to scream, as depicted in the famous Edvark Munch painting shown above. I think much of the challenge of dealing with our personal struggles is because they are usually invisible to other people. How we appear to others on the outside is not always how we really are on the inside.
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