Recently I’ve been reading, No Man Is an Island, by Thomas Merton. He was a Trappist Monk, so he knew a little about solitude. I like the sound of the word, but not the sound of it only. There are words that are more or less pleasing to the ear. Much of this is based on our cultural associations, personal associations and experiences. There’s more to this than meets the ear. The word solitude also has a subtle taste for which it has taken me some decades to develop an appreciation. Because words are symbols for ideas, and ideas are meant to convey meaning, words are more than just sounds to me. They have a taste. They have a scent as well. Don’t take my word for it. Think about it. Test it yourself in the laboratory of your own being. This is the only way we can ever know a thing for certain, at least as certain as it is within our power to know. The test is subjective, but ideas, at their source if they come from something Real, something Higher, have a more objective meaning. As ideas descend into our sense based minds their meaning becomes more and more obscured, in much the same way as a nude body is obscured by the clothing we put on it. The objective meaning of higher ideas takes some practice to discover. The effort involved in this practice requires us to direct our attention. As we withdraw from our addiction to the senses we may be able to find another direction for our attention. Necessarily we need a desire before we can expect to find that other direction. A desire that is spawned from a profound, though often barely recognized, discontent. A direction that draws us up and away from the world of the senses to something much finer, more subtle. This can be frightening as we feel our grip slipping on what we have acquired in life.

I looked up the definition of solitude to set it in my mind, making sure I meant what Merton meant when he used the word. I feel certain he knew what the word meant and didn’t just think he did. He wrote somewhere around seventy books. That’s not really a big deal since there are people who write that many books and say nothing worth the life of a tree. Merton, on the other hand, had something to say that I think a tree might have been willing to sacrifice itself to help convey to others. Pardon me for digressing a bit here, but I love trees. It pains me to see a tree cut down, especially an old tree. Trees are patient and harmless. I’d like to say kind but it may make it sound to some as if I’m anthropomorphizing trees. Trees are not human. That’s probably what makes them naturally harmless. They provide so much to us and ask so little in return. Another nonhuman aspect of their nature. The quality of the air we breath is increased because of trees. They stand there and watch us scurry about like the little idiots we are. We cut them down while they remain mute and patient until the last bit of life is taken from them. It’s spring here. The trees are beginning to cloth themselves in green. I like to look at them. I like to listen to them. They have gentle voices. We share 70% identical DNA with oak trees. I don’t know. It’s just wild to think about that.

Solitude comes from the Latin solitudo, from solusalone.’ The dictionary defines solitude as the state or situation of being alone. Through the years I’ve heard many people complain about being lonely. Being lonely is different from being alone. Even the dictionary knows the difference, but since people don’t usually read a dictionary, especially when they think they know the meaning of a word, I’m going to share with you the definition. Lonely is sad because one has no friends or company. When I think of solitude I don’t feel sad in the least. I feel exhilarated, uplifted, at peace and oddly, secure. After reading that one might wonder what kind of friends or company I’ve had. Same as you’ve had probably. Some good, some not so much. Merton wrote in one of his Journals:

A Preference for the Chant of Frogs
Warmer. Rain in the night. Frogs again. At first the waterhole (four feet long at most) had one frog or two. Now they are a small nation, loud in the night. The innocent nation, chanting blissfully in praise of the spring rain. Last evening I pruned a few little trees–including the beeches I had planted.

Today I have to go down to see Fr. Vernon Robertson, who evidently wants me to get involved in something–and I will try not to. He has been pestering me to come to Louisville to give a talk at Bellarmine College. And this is confirming me in my resolution to keep out of all that.

Almost every day I have to write a letter to someone refusing an invitation to attend a conference, or a workshop, or to give talks on the contemplative life, or poetry, etc. I can see more and more clearly how for me this would be a sheer waste, a Pascalian diversion, participation in a common delusion. (For others, no: they have the grace and mission to go around talking.) For me what matters is silence, meditation–and writing: but writing is secondary. To willingly and deliberately abandon this to go out and talk would be stupidity–for me. And for others, retirement into my kind of solitude would be equally stupid. They could not do it–and I could not do what they do.

No one bothers me with invitations anymore, especially since I’ve found this place of solitude. It’s palpable. I was reading the above passage from Merton’s Journal to a friend. He said, It sounds like you. Yes, it probably does. Many are of the opinion that I live like a monk. Perhaps they’re right. It’s a wonderful life for me because I do it easily, happily, peacefully, even eagerly. I must go out to buy a part to fix a leak under the sink in the laundry room. It would take me less time to do it than it does to prepare myself for the excursion. Solitude is sweet. At times it’s difficult to part with that sweetness, even for a short time. Perhaps when I’m more practiced with solitude the necessity to part with it will wane until the state is waiting for me wherever I must go.

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About Esoteric Talks

"No good deed goes unpunished."

The person most frequently credited as the originator of the phrase is playwright Clare Boothe Luce. Also credited have been playwright Noel Coward, writer Oscar Wilde, journalist Walter Winchell and the late Washington Post writer Bill Gold. The original idea is probably an ancient proverb.

Appearing cynical on the surface, a closer examination of human nature reveals the False Personality to be incredibly vengeful and petty due to its hubris.

Plato has Socrates say, "An unexamined life is not worth living." The reason no good deed goes unpunished is because most people are living lives not worth living. If you feel a sting, that probably means you are spending more time and energy examining the lives of others than you are examining your own.