On Spritual Mentors: Thomas Merton

It was shortly after I left the Army in 1979 that I began my search for a bridge between psychology and spirituality. One of the early architects of that bridge was Thomas Merton.

I had a copy of Merton’s well-known biography The Seven-Story Mountain but found some of the guidance I sought in other of his writings.

As a young man, Thomas Merton lived the fast life but when that life began to be empty, he turned to spiritual pursuits. His search eventually took him to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. There he found his way and became a Trappist monk.

While Merton treasured the life of a monk, he found in his meditation and prayer a connection to mankind that he would later articulate in passionate writings on behalf of racial justice as well as opposition to nuclear proliferation. Finding a connection to others by looking inward was an early bit of guidance Merton offered me.

Thomas Merton also gave me permission to pursue my growing interest in other religions. Merton spent much of his life exploring common ground with other paths, especially Zen Buddhism. He made connection with Thich Nhat Hahn who would also become a mentor for me.

Merton has offered me hope through being very human. He fell in love with a nurse who cared for him and conducted a correspondence with her. While he may have struggled, he also celebrated this woman’s beauty and his attraction to her. This humanness made Merton more accessible as has the humanness of other spiritual mentors such as Henri Nouwen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Merton and others have helped me revise my understanding of sainthood.

In New Seeds of Contemplation Merton opened for me the notion of the God of my understanding long before I came to know the Twelve Steps. Merton wrote: “Our idea of God tells us more about oursleves than about Him.” (p.15) He also reminded me to quiet the noise in my head when he wrote “So keep still and let Him do some work.”(p.261)

Also important on my journey was Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. In the spirit of paradox, Merton observes: “God help the man who thinks he knows all about himself” (p.150), a powerful caution against my arrogance. And as I observe the current lack of dialogue in politics as well as religion, these words of Merton are relevent: “…when one is firmly convinced of his own rightness and goodness, he can without qualm perpetrate the most appalling evil.” (p.170)

Merton died in Thailand while attending an inter-faith conference between Catholic and non-Catholic monks. The seeds he planted in my mind and heart many years ago continue to yield fruit.

Reflection: 1. Who are some early influences on your journey?

2. What role does silence play on your journey?


About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to On Spritual Mentors: Thomas Merton

  1. Coming out of a fundamentalist Christian upbringing sent me on an anti-spiritual path for some years until at the age of 40 my life fell apart. In my 20s I did read Herman Hesse and Alan Watts who were bridges to a spirituality which became more developed as a result of being in Jungian therapy for over a decade. When I was able to include the Christian tradition in my fascination with Eastern thought, I discovered Richard Rohr and was able to wed, as he calls it, action and contemplation. John O’Donohue was incredibly important as was the storytelling of Michael Meade and a number of indigenous spiritual elders. The great poets have also guided me: Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, Rilke, William Stafford, and Mary Oliver. Today I am deeply engaged in Sacred Activism which Andrew Harvey has written about extensively, and another marriage has occurred–the joining of my activism with my spiritual path. And…for 38 years, I have followed a daily mediation practice. Silence and stepping out of the mind and into the heart and body have been absolutely essential.

  2. Susan beehler says:

    Ah. Seven story mountain!! This was a first book on spirituality. Suggested by my little Scottish catholic aunt. Back in th 1960’s ! She seemed to see far into my spiritual journey…one I could never have imagined. Thank you for reminding me of her and the spark she gave to my life. And thank you for your continued writings to remind us of other. No mud. No lotus. Rock on!

  3. Susan Bass says:

    You were one of my mentors for the therapeutic relationship. For a long time your spirit was with me during every encounter with a veteran. Victor Frankl is a mentor for living a meaning-centered life. Marilyn Gamero is a mentor for what it really means to be a nurse. Let me also say I love silence. As an only child with two working parents and few friends, I had a lot of quiet time. It sounds lonely and sometimes it was, but it also taught me how to be comfortable being by myself and how to use the quiet to contemplate.

  4. Margie says:

    My first mentor was my grandmother. When I was very young, I spent lots of nights with her and at that time it bothered me that she would not stop praying, especially when I was trying to go to sleep. But her prayers have helped me through my adult life. It help mold me into the person that I am. I continue to pray as life continues to send challenges and boy, some are hard.

  5. Pingback: Thomas Merton – architect of the soul | Operating invisibly

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