Thomas Merton: Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude

     In what many consider his most comprehensive work on the subject of solitude, “Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude” by Thomas Merton attempts to put forth and defend the concept of monastic living in terms that may be understood by the common person. In introducing the layperson to this hermetic and contemplative lifestyle, Merton states that he wishes to do away with the cliché image of huddled together monks in hooded robes. In setting aside what he calls “the externals” of monastic living, Merton makes it clear that he wishes to focus on what he believes to be the true essence of hermitage, which he describes as a lifestyle pursued in order that one may establish a mystic connection with God. In “Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude” Merton refines and revisits some of his earlier arguments in favor of monasticism, in an attempt to make his best possible case for living a contemplative lifestyle which may result in a mystic union with God.

One of the primary goals for Thomas Merton in writing “Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude” is to put forth his opinion that each person exists in a solitary state. However, most people never come to fully realize this due to the distractions placed upon them by society. According to Merton, these distractions work to anesthetize the individual so that they are made unaware of their individuality. In becoming part of the collective, the contemplative continues, the individual becomes occupied by its goals, which further distracts them from attaining a mystic union with God. When this occurs, the individual experiences what Merton believes to be the most devastating form of alienation: separation from oneself.

Having articulated that which plagues the individual, Thomas Merton goes on to describe how one may get rid of this sickness. For Merton, the cure for alienation is interior solitude in which one may experience a mystic connection to God. However, Thomas Merton writes, solitude is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. In withdrawing to a life of solitude, the individual first experiences pain and confusion at the loss of the collective. It is only in feeling this pain that the true journey begins. Merton believed that as the distractions of the collective vanished, they were replaced by real faith. In no longer feeling societal pressure, the believer could prepare to enter into a contemplative mindset which paved the way for a mystic relationship with God. It is only in this individualistic state, Merton asserted, that the believer could come to know themselves as well as God.

From this, Thomas Merton explains how to engage in a life of solitude. He begins by telling the reader that solitude must not be engaged in as some sort of non-conformist philosophy, as this brings forth its own personal illusions which may even be worse than those experienced as part of the collective. Instead, those who seek to enter into a mystic union with God must be free of all illusions, in order to maintain the humbleness and purity which allows for contemplative thought. For Merton, true solitude is understood through the uniqueness of the self. In realizing this uniqueness, a person becomes connected to others through the commonality of loneliness. This opens the believer to the profound truth that in discovering the loneliness of self, one may discover the loneliness of God.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Thomas Merton identifies what is the ultimate purpose of solitary life: Contemplation. For Merton, to live the life of a contemplative is to be transformed by divine mercy. In this transformation, the emptiness one feels in living a life of solitude is replaced by the perfect love of God. In this way, the mystic union one seeks with God can be said to be acquired through a life of contemplation. In this concise explanation of the purpose of solitary life, Thomas Merton conveys a clear message to his audience. It is only through contemplative thought that one may truly enter into a life of solitude, which works to free the individual from the pressures of the collective in order to establish a genuine relationship with God.

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At present he is also working as part time executive for Now You Know Media they offer catholic audio & video programs by top professors. Visit Now You Know Media to download mp3 audio and video catholic religious programs and audio video courses.

Posted on 2012-04-02, By: *

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