Gelassenheit – letting go – not being encumbered by systems, words, projects. And yet being free in systems, projects. Not trying to get away from all action, all speech, but free, unencumbering Gelassen in this or that action. Error of self-conscious contemplatives: to get hung up on a certain kind of non-action which is an imprisonment, a stupor, the opposite of Gelassenheit. Actually quietism is incompatible with true inner freedom. The furden of this stupid and enforced “quiet” – the self sitting heavily on its own head.
Still thinking of K.C., who wrote from Cincinnati. From a certain point of view my letter to her was a scandal. I was in effect saying, “Don’t listen for the voice of God, God will not speak to you.” Yet this had to be said. Today, for a certain type of person, deceptive. It is the wrong kind of listening: listening for a limited message, an objective sound, a sensible meaning. Actually one decides one’s life by responding to a word that is not well defined, easily explicable, safely accounted for. One decides to love in the face of an unaccountable void, and from the void comes an unaccountable truth. By this truth one’s existence is sustained in peace – until the truth is too firmly grasped and too clearly accounted for. Then one is relying on words, i.e., on ones’ own understanding and one’s own ingenuity in interpreting existence and its “signs.” The one is lost and has to be found once again in the patient Void.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry, November 13, 1966
“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.” – Alan Watts
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.
I first photographed at this spot on the East Branch of the Penobscot River in Grindstone, Maine in 2009. Each time I go it’s the same; each time is vastly different. I feel at home here.
I was there this morning.
the day I wanted to die,
tried, and failed
I had failed at success
and succeeded in failure
today and every day
I am grateful for life
(… Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all…)
– Bob Dylan, Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Prayer should not only draw God down to us: it should lift us up to God. It should not only rest in God’s reflection (which the soul, still resting in the house of the body, finds within itself). It should rise out of the body and seek to leave this life in order to rest in God. This is true solitude, unimaginably different from any other solitude of body or of soul. But it is hard to find and the pressure of desires that make us heavy and anchor us to earth when we are immersed in the active life of a community.
– Thomas Merton, Journal entry – September 3, 1952
(Photo: Monastery of Christ in The Desert, Abiquiu, NM – September 2018)
I want to seek nothing at all, if this is possible. but only to be led without looking and without seeking. For thus to seek is to find. – Thomas Merton, journal entry – August 2, 1960
(Photo: Abiquiu, NM, September 2018
Strangely, forgiveness never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not actually meant to forget, as if, like the foundational dynamics of the physiological immune system our psychological defenses must remember and organize against any future attacks — after all, the identity of the one who must forgive is actually founded on the very fact of having been wounded.
Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it. Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.
To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seemed to hurt us. We reimagine ourselves in the light of our maturity and we reimagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.
– Robert A. Johnson
A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.
After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down.
I weep like a child
and make obscene gestures
through the window. I
write large suicide notes
and place them so he
can read them easily.
I destroy the living
room furniture to prove
I own nothing of value.
When he seems unmoved
I decide to dig a tunnel
to a neighboring yard.
I seal the basement off
from the upstairs with
a brick wall. I dig hard
and in no time the tunnel
is done. Leaving my pick
and shovel below,
I come out in front of a house
and stand there too tired to
move or even speak, hoping
someone will help me.
I feel I’m being watched
and sometimes I hear
a man’s voice,
but nothing is done
and I have been waiting for days.
(from Collected Poems)
The Peace of Wild Things
BY WENDELL BERRY
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.