From “Solitude is Not Separation” by Thomas Merton

by JordanB

Words for those who long for connection:

“Man seeks unity because he is the image of the One God. Unity implies solitude, and hence the need to be physically alone. But unity and solitude are not metaphysical isolation. He who isolates himself in order to enjoy a kind of independence in his egotistic and external self does not find unity at all, for he disintegrates into a multiplicity of conflicting passions and finally ends in confusion and total unreality. Solitude is not and can never be a narcissistic dialogue of the ego with itself. Such self-contemplation is a futile attempt to establish the finite self as infinite, to make it permanently independent of all other beings. And this is madness. Note, however, that it is not a madness peculiar to solitaries–it is much more common to those who try to assert their own unique excellence by dominating others. This is the more usual sin

“The need for true solitude is a complex and dangerous thing, but it is a real need. It is all the more real today when the collectivity tends more and more to swallow up the person in its shapeless and faceless mass. The temptation of our day is to equate “love” and “conformity”–passive subservience to the mass-mind or to the organization. This temptation is only strengthened by futile rebellion on the part of eccentrics who want to be madly and notably different and who thereby create for themselves only a new kind of dullness–a dullness that is erratic instead of predictable.

“True solitude is the home of the person, false solitude is the refuge of the individualist. The person is constituted by a uniquely subsisting capacity to love–by a radical ability to care for all beings made by God and loved by Him. Such a capacity is destroyed by the loss of perspective. Without a certain element of solitude there can be no compassion because when a man is lost in the wheels of a social machine he is no longer aware of human needs as a matter of personal responsibility. One can escape from men by plunging into the midst of a crowd.

“Go into the desert not to escape other men but in order to find them in God.”