“There are two major obstacles to a development of a spirituality of peace. The fear of silence and solitude looms like cliffs in the human psyche. Noise protects us from confronting ourselves, but silence speaks the language of the heart. Silence and solitude are what really bring us into contact both with ourselves and with others. Deep down inside of us reside, in microcosm, all the human hopes and fears, the struggles to control them, the hope to set them free, the peace that comes when we have confronted both the best and the worst in ourselves and found them both acceptable.
Silence requires a respect for solitude, however, and solitude is even more frightening than quiet. One of life’s greatest lessons is that solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Loneliness is that sign that something is lacking. The purpose of solitude, on the other hand, is to bring us home to the center of ourselves with such serenity that we could lose everything and, in the end, lose nothing of the fullness of life at all.
Silence does more than confront us with ourselves. Silence makes us wise. Face-to-face with ourselves we come very quickly, if we listen to the undercurrents that are in contention within us, to respect the struggles of others. Silence teaches us how much we have yet to learn. Or, as we get older, silence perhaps reminds us too that there are qualities that we may never with confidence attain and that will war in our souls till the day we die. Then face-to-face with our struggles and our inadequacies, there is no room in us for mean judgments and narrow evaluations of others. Suddenly, out of silence, comes the honesty that tempers arrogance and makes us kind.”–Joan Chittister, OSB
From For Everything a Season by Joan Chittister (Orbis)
“Is it true to say that one goes into solitude to “Get at the root of existence”? It would be better simply to say that in solitude one is at the root. He who is alone and is conscious of what his solitude means, finds himself simply in the ground of life.”–Thomas Merton
Love and Living by Thomas Merton (Harcourt, p 22)
Photograph by Thomas Merton, taken on May 13, 1968 on the Pacific Shore
“People who watch birds and animals are already wise in their way. I want not only to observe but know living things, and this implies a dimension of primordial familiarity which is simple and primitive and religious and poor. This is the reality I need, the vestige of God in His creatures. And the light of God in my own soul.”–Thomas Merton
From A Search for Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 3
Contradictions have always existed in the soul of [individuals]. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison. –Thomas Merton
Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton (FS&G, 1956, p. 80-81)
Catholic monk, author, and mystic Thomas Merton reflects here on the relationship between love and solitude. Our culture has put these two in opposition to each other–to be alone is to be loveless, to be loved is to never be lonely. Merton understand the connection quite differently.
All I know is that here I am, and the valley is very quiet, the sun is going down, there is no human being around, and as darkness falls I could easily be a completely forgotten person, as if I did not exist for the world at all. (Though there is one who remembers and whom I remember.) The day could easily come when I would be just as invisible as if I never existed, and still be living up here on this hill. … And I know that I would be perfectly content to be so.
Who knows anything at all about solitude if he has not been in love, and in love in his solitude? Love and solitude must test each other in the one who means to live alone: they must become one and the same thing in him, or he will only be half a person. Unless I have you with me always, in some very quiet and perfect way, I will never be able to live fruitfully alone. –Thomas Merton
From Learning to Love, edited by Christine M. Bochen (Harper SanFrancisco, 1997, p. 314-315)