Brother Paulus Terwitte at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 12

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Brother Paulus Terwitte takes the stage and immediately confronts the two questions he says everyone always asks. The first is, “Are you a real monk?” When he asked that, his usual reply is “Are you real?” The second is: “What do you do?” His answer to that one is, “Nothing.” He says that he does nothing because he wants to find the answer to the most important question in life, one that you can read on the first page of the Bible. We still don’t know what this question is, so he tells us that there’s a little machine used all over the world to remind us of this question — it’s the cell phone that everybody calls to say “Where are you?” And that was what God asked, “Adam, where are you?” Brother Terwitte asks, “Where are you with your thoughts and your feelings? Are you at home or all over the world?”

He says that he was talking to someone the other day, when their phone rang, and the person took his mobile and walked away. It happens all the time, he notes. The phone rings, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of sharing ideas and people go away like the President is calling. Brother Terwitte says he eventually left the area after five minutes of waiting on this person, thinking he must not be so important.

He says that he spends three hours of an organized, scheduled doing nothing every day at his monastery. He explains that they want to find the inner voice of their being, and that every man wants to find the inner sense of things. We all want to get the whole world in our hands, he says, and you have to decide how you will do this thing. He declares that God made a paradise, and in the middle of it he put Google, and said, “If you want to find something don’t use Google. You are a human being, so go to your neighbor, not a machine.”

Brother Terwitte recounts how many followers he has on Twitter, friends on Facebook and other connections on other social media. “Is it possible that humans can have 300 friends? Is it possible to contact 600 Twitterers?” he asks. He wants to know what are we looking for. We have become primitive hunters and gatherers, he says. We are gathering information. We think that what we have is what we are. He reminds us that primitive hunters and gatherers moved forward when they began to paint. They painted the animals and all that they saw so that when there was a long winter they where happy, because they could look back on what they had seen in the world.

That’s what we friars are doing all over the world, Brother Terwitte says. He tells us that we’ve seen many things and many ideas at this conference and now he wants to give us 15 seconds to think about this alone. The room is quiet for 15 seconds.

When he speaks again, he says that now we are in a time when human beings are taught to go away, to travel, volunteer here and there, to go to Venice and New York and gather all the things you can gather. Then at the end, you can say now I have made enough experiences, I can decide what I want to do. But when you look at your life you haven’t decided the most important things, you haven’t looked for them. What you have found you have found on the street, in a party, in a book and then splash, it’s over.

He tells us that the world is not made for us such that the world has to fulfill us. We have to become astonished about the world. There is a voice in all things that we can see. No-one can show us, but we can hear it with our hearts. It is necessary to begin to realize that we have the inner sense of the world in our life. Every man has the inner point of everything in themselves. He says that if we were to take 15 minutes to meditate, to go on vacation without our mobiles, to make it one day without the Internet we would find that we are all creative human beings and we would find the source that connects us all.

Photo: Brother Paulus Terwitte at TEDGlobal 2009, Session 12: “Enquire within,” July 24, 2009, in Oxford, UK. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson