Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Solitude Silence Spiritual Practice Thomas Merton


The Solitude of the Heart

Reciprocity of Loving

Mar 22, 2018

Saying For Today: In such aloneness, one discovers we are already, always together, even when apart.


Living in Love beyond Beliefs


I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

A bore is someone who takes away my solitude and does not give me companionship in return.

*Henry David Thoreau

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Two memories from when I began exploring Silence and Solitude...

1) This was 1995, I was an Assistant Professor of Religion and was invited to a student retreat away from campus. At that event, all being busy and noisy, I walked off alone for a respite. I wanted alone time, quiet. A student, a dear young lady and meaning well, came upon me by accident and asked, with concerned seriousness, "What is wrong? Why are you alone?" I got irritated ~ now, I would see it as simply someone expressing kindness. This was an early event that alerted me to how solitude, as chosen aloneness, can be easily seen ~ and oft is ~ as a sign something is wrong, otherwise, why would one want, even enjoy, apartness from others. I came to see how socialized my culture is to seeing the normal persons as those liking, even needing, to be with others usually and the odd outsiders, possibly neurotic or psychotic, as those who enjoy alone time as much or more than together time. For example, persons speak of others who enjoy solitude as loners, but we do not have a term in common usage, like togetherers, for persons who always seem to need company with others and cannot seem to tolerate apartness.

2) About a year prior to the above happening, I began attending a little Episcopal church for worship. The priest, Ron, and I became friends. He gave me a key to the sanctuary, for solitude, meditation, and devotional practice outside class time. I would spend hours there first in the morning. The daily ritual included a huge mug of coffee, procured each time from the same store on the way, to drink during my spiritual reading. One vivid memory that oft comes to me was finding myself under the altar once, when the organist entered and practiced the Sunday music. He had no idea anyone was hidden there, but I was stuck under the altar ~ if I came out, it might shock him. I relaxed and continued the alone time in meditation, hidden away. I had already decided hiding under the altar would be a good place to meditate, no one would surely look under the altar to find me, anyone. Such was a zealous, likely to some odd or fanatical, early exploration into solitude. The memory is relished, however. Anyway, it worked ~ I was not found. Later I was vowed to a life of solitude. Thankfully, I do not hide under altars anymore.

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The late Thomas Merton, famed Christian contemplative and an inspiration for my own journey of silence and solitude, wrote in Thoughts in Solitude:

When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively, no distraction. My whole life becomes prayer. The world of silence in which I am immersed contributes to my prayer.

The unity which is the poverty in solitude draws together all the wounds of the soul and closes them. As long as we remain poor, as long as we are empty and interested in nothing but God, we cannot be distracted. For our very poverty prevents us from being "pulled apart" (dis-tracted).

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.

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Merton reminds us the practice of solitude is not merely or only being shut up in a place, as he was as a monk in an enclosed community. The solitude of the heart is the empty, yet fecund, openness to see the Divine everywhere and receive the Sacred through the world around us, returning the Blessing to the world in Loving Presence and Action. This is the Reciprocity of Loving. And this poverty, not necessarily poverty as to things, but as to attachment to things as things, allows a richness of appreciation in being-with others, even when we are not in physical proximity to them. That is, in a regular act of solitude, with time the physical boundaries between others and us grows thinner.

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The desert within, that empty openness teeming with vibrant life, is the Inner Sanctum where all is dissolved in Quiet and Intimacy with the Beloved. In this desert grows up and blooms much beauty, giving freely fragrance to the world through our simple and unmediated presence. When we reenter the world outside, we can see the world more clearly, kindly, and beautifully, even as we can take the love of the world into the solitude where we nourish our connection to the unseen, to Home.

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Now, as to solitude, when developed over time, becoming a continuous experience, even amid others, so the solitude is uninterrupted and undisturbed always, I have written on that elsewhere at length within these writings. Suffice it to say, presently, that does not happen for one who does not begin with an intentional setting aside of regular time to practice being alone as means to nurture communion with the Sacred, a time from the flow of events most persons think life is. This practice is, as Hindus have said it well, being alone with the Alone, which we find paradoxically to nurture an intimacy with everyone, everything, and a nonsentimental love for all sentient life. In such aloneness, one discovers we are already, always together, even when apart.

Seing Birds

Grace and Peace to All

Lotus of the Heart is an interspiritual offering of Brian Kenneth Wilcox, who lives in Florida USA. Feel free to submit a query to Lotus of the Heart...



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Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Solitude Silence Spiritual Practice Thomas Merton

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