Thursday, March 15, 2012

the solitary is either god or beast

"Most men cannot live fruitfully without a large proportion of fiction in their thinking.  If they do not have some efficacious mythology around which to organize their activities, they will regress into a less efficacious, more primitive, more chaotic set of illusions.  When the ancients said that the solitary was likely to be either a god or a beast, they meant that he would either achieve a rare intellectual and spiritual independence, or sink into a more complete and brutish dependence.  The solitary easily plunges into a cavern of darkness and of phantoms more horrible and more absurd than the most inane set of conventional social images.  The suffering he must then face is neither salutary nor noble.  It is catastrophic."

- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) p. 187


  1. alas
    a few thinks
    a contemplative is a person who has realized
    that they are to worthless to fail !!!
    my own take - there is absurdity -
    i read a lot of Merton stuff i dont think
    he was a happy camper - no amount of prayer
    ritual or church stuff will get you happy ,
    content to be just you with no add ons ---
    its a different kind of fish __________

    so this -----------


    The winds
    of silence
    have blown away -

    marker standing
    To point direction -

    How then
    can such a landscape
    Be safely crossed ?

    What a foolish question -

    An appropriate vehicle

    Blessings ____________________________

  2. hi bob, i was just reading yesterday in 'intimate merton' entry from dec 7 1967: ....- a kind of joy unusual in this journal - where i am usually diffident and sad.'..also i wonder, when you write journals, whether you would write about your general joy of existence.... because of T's sort of constant existential ruminations and search i think probably this is the impresions we are left with, i have had the same thoughts reading his journals and then again what is happiness? he certainly thinks that where he is is where he'd be least miserable (i think) blessings to you too bro :-)

  3. and re your poem: Intimate Merton, he has a dream about landscape and escape, just read it this morning, entry Jan. 6 1968 page 385 : 'suden recollection (as it were), a voice:'it's not a bridge' - i.e., no bridge necessary!' ...

  4. Thanks for your comment and poem, Bob. I read Merton that way too - a lot of struggle, turning more and more toward a Zen non-resolution of things.

    Most people who knew Merton in person say he was very "alive", present, affectionate and gave you full attention but didn't have time for small talk. Focused.

    Happy or no, Merton lays down a path for me, but not a path to anywhere. He honestly explored this inner territory and search that started with Church-stuff but didn't stay there.

  5. thanks for your comments
    i started reading Merton in the 60 in the Catholic Worker
    his antiwar positions were not well revived by the
    Official Church nor the Catholic Worker paper thought
    to be a Socialist publication and Dorthy Day participating in non-catholic services at that time a biggie sin !!!
    it is interesting the turn of events -

  6. interesting turn of events, indeed, Bob -

    It seems the Official Church was not yet ready for Merton or Dorothy Day back then. Or now.

    I've begun to think that Dorothy and Merton only speak to the Underground Church. But what (and where) is the Underground Church? The monasteries? The streets?

  7. greetings beth ---
    Jesus has been transformed into a religion
    as well as Buddha and Mohamed -there simple
    message has been corrupted through institutionalism
    i think this is what was attracting Merton
    to Zen --------
    " wisdom is found in the market place " bible

  8. Yeah, that and also the "aha" of Zen via non-rational routes.

    It's tricky, this straddling of the spiritual and secular wisdom. I think that Merton realized that you can't nail it down or hold it in your hand, without losing it.


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God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger. — Thomas Merton, Emble...