Merton on Solitude

“SPath2MertonsHermitage_croppedolitude as act: The reason no one really understands solitude, or bothers to try to understand it, is that it appears to be nothing but a condition, something one elects to undergo–like standing under a cold shower. Actually, solitude is a realization, an actualization, even a kind of creation, as well as a liberation of active forces within us, forces that are more than our own, yet more ours than what appears to be ‘ours.’ As a mere condition, solitude can be passive, inert, and basically unreal: a kind of permanent coma. One has to work at it to keep out of this condition. One has to work actively at solitude, not by putting fences around oneself, but by destroying all fences and throwing away all the disguises, getting down to the naked root of one’s inmost desire, which is the desire of liberty-reality. To be free from the illusion that reality creates when one is out of right relation to it and to be real in the freedom which reality gives when one is rightly related to it.

“Hence the need for discipline, for some kind of technique of integration that keeps body and soul together, harmonizes their power, brings them into one deep resonance, orients the whole being toward the root of being. The need for a ‘way.’ Presence, invocation, mantram, concentration, emptiness: all these are aspects of a realized solitude. Mere being alone is nothing. Or at least, it is only a potential. Sooner or later, [the one] who is merely alone either rots or escapes….”

–Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton: His Life from his Journals (Harper San Franciso, 1999), pp. 291-2, selected from Merton’s journal entry for June 20, 1966.




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