“… this is most truly myself. It is what I most want to say, almost all I really deeply want to say. Everything else just points to this.” (Letter to Therese Lentfoehr, September 12, 1960)In a footnote to the essay, Merton explains that the “solitary” of whom he speaks “is never necessarily a ‘monk’ at all. He may well be a layman, and of the sort most remote from cloistered life, like Thoreau or Emily Dickinson."
Merton begins the study by asking:
“Why write about solitude in the first place? Certainly not in order to preach it, to exhort people to become solitary. What could be more absurd? Those who are to become solitary are, as a rule, solitary already … all men are solitary. Only most of them are so averse to being alone, or to feeling alone, that they do everything they can to forget their solitude.” (Disputed Questions, p. 177)
The emphasis in the first part of the essay is on “interior solitude”, interiority, which one can have in the midst of crowds and every distraction. The first essential of interior solitude is taking responsibility for one’s own inner life.
I suspect that I will be referring to this essay for awhile in my explorations of Merton's solitude.