A 1500 mile drive across the better part of the country on sometimes crowded interstates might not conjure up thoughts of solitude. For me, it was a welcome respite and full of solitude. I chose to drive many hours in silence..just noise from the road, the car and the wind. Sometimes some music and those were usually long, complex pieces which I hadn't heard from beginning to end in some time. Rare was the interruption from phone, text, email.
The extended sitting allowed me to watch the long arc of emotions, the genesis, expansion and fading of thoughts and ideas. I could shift my perspective and watch whole internal processes, with their complicated ecosystems. I played with focus and concentration for many hours, which is the proper length of time for such things.
Outside the land and landscapes changed. But, the change, even when quick and dramatic , was...congruent. I had crossed and been part of the before, the during, and soon, the after. I understood how it became what it became. I noticed how I often miss that when traveling by plane...I just arrive, having missed the relationship...the process of becoming.
Now, I am back at home, back on the side of the mesa. Because I live in, and love, the high desert, I always seem to come back to books about the desert, solitude, and spirituality. Here are some passages from a fine one by Thomas Merton that I am revisiting right now. (I forgotten that Merton was a Trappist Monk...my favorite business book is probably "Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks" by August Turak)
From "Thoughts In Solitude" by Thomas Merton
"In an age when totalitarianism has striven, in every way, to devaluate and degrade the human person, we hope it is right to demand a hearing for any and every sane reaction in the favor of man’s inalienable solitude and his interior freedom."
"It is all very well to insist that man is a “social animal”—the fact is obvious enough. But that is no justification for making him a mere cog in a totalitarian machine—or in a religious one either, for that matter. In actual fact, society depends for its existence on the inviolable personal solitude of its members. Society, to merit its name, must be made up not of numbers, or mechanical units, but of persons. To be a person implies responsibility and freedom, and both these imply a certain interior solitude, a sense of personal integrity, a sense of one’s own reality and of one’s ability to give himself to society—or to refuse that gift."
"In other words, since faith is a matter of freedom and self-determination—the free receiving of a freely given gift of grace—man cannot assent to a spiritual message as long as his mind and heart are enslaved by automatism."
Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was an American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.
Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews. Among Merton's most enduring works is his bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which sent scores of World War II veterans, students, and even teenagers flocking to monasteries across the US, and was also featured in National Review's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, the Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and authored books on Zen Buddhism and Taoism.