A worldy woman meets Thomas Merton
Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.
It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity
to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.
— Thomas Merton
Recently I have been pushed to think about quietness, meditation, alone-ness rather than being busy with the intrusion of the telephone, emails, constant interruptions. Then I found a page of pencil scribbles from a Thomas Merton workshop I attended at Wesley Church in Geelong a few months ago. (The monk who gained a huge popularity in the 60s and beyond.) I really agree with some of the things he wrote. So I typed my scribbled page up. The task at the workshop was to imagine a conversation with Thomas Merton and write without editing - just to write quickly and spontaneously.
M Look around you. What do you see, hear, feel?
W The noise of people even a rooster. Laughter. Running feet on the cement footpath.
M Now go past the intrusions. Look down at the ground. Take off your shoes and feel the grit.
W I like that. You used to walk barefoot didn’t you? Near your hermitage?
M Yes in the woods. We should feel the scratchiness, the pebbles, the broken sticks, the underbelly of a forest.
W Yes I agree with that, but I am atttuned to the busy city too. Isn’t it escapism, this notion of solitude that you suggest we all should have? Isn’t being with other people more important that this?
M Stop talking so much. Concentrate only on this thing under your feet. There are living things, moving things in nature here.
W. Ants. Certainly no frogs here - because of the drought. .Can we sit down now.
M Lie down, then feel the grass and earth on your arms and face. It’s all connected.
W Hmmmm. One thing I don’t like this talk of ‘nothingness’ in your writing. I’d rather you called it ‘fullness’.
M Ahah! But you don’t get it do you! Nothingness means being empty of ego that trips you up.
W. So you are a Buddhist at heart.
M. I don’t like labels
W A New Ager we call it. There’s a Japanese method of focussing on world peace, not buteko, that’s breathing exercises but there is a similar name. It’s an idea about all of nature as vibrating, as being connected.
M We didn’t say that in my time but it does make sense. A Frenchman was into that idea too. Tielhard de Chardin eh. Go back to where we started about the earth under our bodies, touching the grass, feel the wind.
W I can’t. The world is too much with us.
M I’ve heard that before. You’ve pinched those words somewhere. Break the chain of attachment.
W. Yes, you are a Buddhist then not a Christian!
M Not a Christian? Come on, come on!
W That’s the crunch part. You moved quite a distance from your Catholic peers, haven’t you? I bet you got into heaps of trouble with the conservatives. They couldn’t keep up with you.
M I disagree because there are many people who walk this walk. You too?
W Well I concede I do like your nature poetry.
M But you do not like the hard work of meditation and the monastic life eh? And you do like to always have the last word.
W Hmmm. (goes off singing ‘Touch the earth lightly’ by Shirley Murray, a New Zealand clergyman’s missus.)