We Are One
by Thomas Merton
PHYSICAL SOLITUDE, exterior silence and real recollection are all morally necessary for anyone who wants to lead a contemplative life: but like everything else in creation they are nothing more than means to an end, and if we do not understand the end we will make a wrong use of the means.
Therefore we have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for others. We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is always only a secondary end.
The one end that includes all others is the love of God.
The truest solitude is not something outside you, not an absence of others or of sound around you: it is an abyss opening up in the center of your own soul. And this abyss of interior solitude is created by a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.
The only way to find solitude is by hunger and thirst and sorrow and poverty and desire, and the one who has found solitude is empty, as if he had been emptied by death. He has advanced beyond all horizons. There are no directions left in which he can travel. This is a country whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. You do not find it by traveling but by standing still.
Yet it is true that this solitude is everywhere, there is a mechanism for finding it that has some reference to actual space, to geography, to physical isolation from the towns and cities. There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of others.
Once you have found such a place, be content with it, and do not be disturbed if a good reason takes you out of it. Love it, and return to it as soon as you can, and do not be too quick to change it for another.
Taken from "Solitude" in Seeds of Contemplation (New York: Dell, copyright © 1959 Abbey of Gethsemane), pp.51-2.