Merton on solitude

Earlier today I took a canoe onto the lake where we are staying and maybe it’s because I had ridden in motorized craft a lot this trip, but it was very refreshing to be paddling along in a still cove. I think there is a lot more to solitude than prayer or maybe it’s that contemplation leads to an awareness or state of mind that begets solitude and that solitude begins to infuse all that I am. It’s more than interior silence. It’s a state of being. As Ii paddled I began to recite, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Solitude as act: the reason no one 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, and yet more ours that 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 the fences and throwing away all the disguises and 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.

Thomas Merton. Learning to Love, Journals Volume 6, Christine M. Bochen, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997): 320-321.I used to