Merton & the Path


This morning I am thinking about Thomas Merton.

For the uninitiated,  Thomas Merton was one of the great mystics of our time.  A Trappist monk and  a prolific writer, in his later years he connected with Buddhist teachers and declared them brothers in contemplation.   His autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain,  is a road map, his own experience with starting off as an atheist and becoming a monk.   Merton spent 13 years of silent meditation at the Abbey of Gethsemani, praying for God’s will.  He came out and wrote this:

My God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.   I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do i really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please You.  And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it at the time.  Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone….

That prayer is found in his book Thoughts in Solitude.

Today I am contemplating Merton.  I have been thinking a lot about him and this path of late…watching myself and others on it, sometimes feeling my own sense of inadequacy, elation, giggles or frustration, my own attachment to outcomes, my own humanness coming in many disguises.

It’s funny– I don’t think most of us have an emotion that has a shelf life of more than about 20 minutes.  Even in the depths of grief or loss, of joy or elation, you cannot hold onto that for more than a few hours…things are always changing.  You can choose to stay angry or as a victim, and that can become habitual as well.  But mostly emotions  ebb and flow, like waves coming and going, rising and falling on the shores of our souls.

Our thoughts and emotional states come and go like clouds in the sky.  And when we recognize this and let them float on by, without getting caught in the stickiness of trying to hold onto a cloud, it all seems to flow pretty well…  Yet when we are experiencing one we label as “negative, ” aka “uncomfortable,” we want that one to end.  I have had long periods of meditation where there is a sense of One, of elation, of the bliss of knowing there is no separation.   It is a practice not to cling to any of it, to let them all come and go, like clouds moving across the blue sky.

This morning I felt my frustration rise over what now seems fairly trivial, at least my part of it.  But it rose nonetheless.  I felt my chest tighten, my breath grow more shallow,  felt myself try to get back to my practice of openness…to breathe it away…ventilate it, give it some space and air, let it pass gently.  If that same person had called to tell me we just won the lotto, those same places in me would have expanded instead of contracted.   Most spiritual traditions teach that the more we hold onto anything, the more it holds onto us.   So this morning, I am letting go, letting my heart space expand and fill with the Light and air that is always available to me.

Separation is illusion.  Divine peace dwell in and around all of us, and we can all trust the process of life.  But isn’t it funny that we only want to trust the things we label as “good?”  So much of our experience is based in the stories we tell ourselves about life and our experiences.   Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, and I think a lot of the suffering in the world is the result of the stories we tell ourselves about the pain, about clinging, grasping and being afraid to let go.

So this morning, I think of Merton.  Because if Thomas Merton– mystic, teacher, writer and fellow traveler on the path– doesn’t know God’s will after 13 years of silent meditation in a monastery, then I probably won’t figure it out today either.  But I’ll keep on the path, and keep asking, keep showing up, keep contemplating.   On that note, I’m going to meditate, letting myself become one of the clouds in this ever moving sky.

I’m curious– what do you do to stay on the path and let it all pass through?

Have a great day.  :)

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