The Change Begins Within Us – 5 quotes from Thomas Merton’s Writings – Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing edited by Robert Inchausti

by Mark Votava

41ydKSrYznL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. A fulfillment which must be all my own

“I can no longer see the ultimate meaning of a man’s life in terms of either ‘being a poet’ or ‘being a contemplative’ or even in a certain sense in ‘being a saint’…  It must be something much more immediate than that.  I – and every other person in the world – must say: ‘I have my own special, peculiar destiny which no one else ever has had or ever will have.  There exists for me a particular goal, a fulfillment which must be all my own – nobody else’s – & it does not really identify that destiny to put it under some category’…” 

2. The dissolution of the false self

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you.  Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory exterior self.  The solution of most such problems comes with the dissolution of this false self.  And consequently another law of the contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or worse still, happiness, you will find neither.  For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced.  And again, this means renouncing the illusory self that seeks to be ‘happy’ and to find ‘fulfillment’ (whatever that may mean) in contemplation.  For the contemplative and spiritual self, the dormant, mysterious, and hidden self that is always effaced by the activity of our exterior self does not seek fulfillment.  It is content to be, and in its being it is fulfilled, because its being is rooted in God.”  

3. The ordinary acts of everyday life

“The true philosopher and the true poet become what they are when they ‘go beyond’ philosophy and poetry, and cease to ‘be philosophers’ or to ‘be poets.’  It is at that point that their whole lives become philosophy and poetry – in other words, there is no longer any philosophy or any poetry separable from the unity of their existence.  Philosophy and poetry have disappeared.  The ordinary acts of everyday life – eating, sleeping, walking, etc., become philosophical acts which grasp the ultimate principles of life in life itself and not in abstraction.”

4. The change begins within us

“For the world to be changed, man himself must begin to change it, he must take the initiative, he must step forth and make a new kind of history. The change begins within himself.”

5. Wisdom is lived

“Wisdom is not only speculative, but also practical: that is to say, it is ‘lived.’  And unless one ‘lives’ it, one cannot ‘have’ it.  It is not only speculative but creative.  It is expressed in living signs and symbols.  It proceeds, then, not merely from knowledge about ultimate values, but from an actual possession and awareness of these values as incorporated in one’s own existence.”

Which quotes are your favorite?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.