"What then is the conclusion? That this solitude of which we have been speaking, the solitude of the true monachos, of the lone one, is not and cannot be selfish. It is the opposite of selfish. It is the death and the forgetfulness of self. But what is self? The self that vanishes from the emptiness is the superficial, false social self, the image made up of the prejudices, the whimsey, the posturing, the pharisaic self-concern and the pseudo dedication which are the heritage of the individual in a limited and imperfect group.
Photo by Thomas Merton
"There is another self, a true self, who comes to full maturity in emptiness and solitude -- and who can of course, begin to appear and grow in the valid, sacrificial and creative self-dedication that belong to a genuine social existence. But note that even this social maturing of love implies at the same time the growth of a certain inner solitude.
"Without solitude of some sort there is and can be no maturity. Unless one becomes empty and alone, he cannot give himself in love because he does not possess the deep self which is the only gift worthy of love. And this deep self, we immediately add, cannot be possessed. My deep self is not "something" which I acquire, or to which I "attain" after a long struggle. It is not mine, and cannot become mine. It is no "thing" - no object. It is "I".
The shallow "I" of individualism can be possessed, developed, cultivated, pandered to, satisfied: it is the center of all our strivings for gain and for satisfaction, whether material or spiritual. But the deep "I" of the spirit, of solitude and of love, cannot be "had," possessed, developed, perfected. It can only be, and act according to deep inner laws which are not of man's contriving, but which come from God. They are the Laws of the Spirit, who, like the wind, glows where He wills. This inner "I," who is always alone, is always universal: for in this inmost "I" my own solitude meets the solitude of every other man and the solitude of God. Hence it is beyond division, beyond limitation, beyond selfish affirmation. It is only this inmost and solitary "I" that truly loves with the love and the spirit of Christ. This "I" is Christ Himself, living in us: and we, in Him, living in the Father."
-- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) pp. 206-207
[Note, this is the last entry in the series of postings on solitude. A blessed rest of Lent, Holy Week and Easter to all.]