Every One Of Us Is Shadowed

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.

This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy…

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.”

–Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 37)


To Hope

To Hope is to risk frustration. Therefore make up your mind to risk frustration.
Do not be one of those who, rather than risk failure, never attempts anything.

— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (p. 106)


If we twist our lives out of shape in order to fill every corner of them with action and experience, God will silently withdraw from our hearts and leave us empty.

Let us, therefore, learn to pass from one imperfect activity to another without worrying too much about what we are missing. It is true that we make many mistakes. But the biggest of them all is to be surprised at them: as if we had some hope of never making any.

— Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p. 126

No Man Is An Island

To put it in plain language, it is hopeless to try to live your life in a cloister if you are going to eat your heart out thinking that nobody loves you. You have to be able to disregard that whole issue, and simply love the whole world in God, embracing all your brethren in the same pure love, without seeking signs of any affection from them and without caring whether or not you ever get any. If you think this is very easy, I assure you that you are mistaken.

–Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p. 157


To Find Some Good In Them To Which We Can Respond

If we wait for some people to become agreeable or attractive before we begin to love them, we will never begin. If we are content to give them a cold impersonal ‘charity’ that is merely a matter of obligation, we will not trouble to understand them or to sympathize with them at all. And in that case we will not really love them, because love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond.

–Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p. 169

Perfect Simplicity

It takes more courage than we imagine to be perfectly simple with other men. Our frankness is often spoiled by a hidden barbarity, born of fear. False sincerity has much to say, because it is afraid. True candor can afford to be silent. It does not need to face an anticipated attack. Anything it may have to defend can be defended with perfect simplicity.

— Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, p. 194

Our Capacity For Sincere Love

Our ability to be sincere with ourselves, with God, and with other men is really proportionate to our capacity for sincere love. And the sincerity of our love depends in large measure upon our capacity to believe ourselves loved. Most of the moral and mental and even religious complexities of our time go back to our desperate fear that we are not and can never be really loved by anyone.

When we consider that most men want to be loved as if they were gods, it is hardly surprising that they should despair of receiving the love they think they deserve. Even the biggest of fools must be dimly aware that he is not worthy of adoration, and no matter what he may believe about his right to be adored, he will not be long in finding out that he can never fool anyone enough to make her adore him. And yet our idea of ourselves is so fantastically unreal that we rebel against this lack of “love” as though we were the victims of an injustice. Our whole life is then constructed on a basis of duplicity. We assume that others are receiving the kind of appreciation we want for ourselves, and we proceed on the assumption that since we are not lovable as we are, we must become lovable under false pretenses, making ourselves appear something better than we are.

–Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p. 201

Barricading Yourself Inside Your Own Soul


And so one of the worst illusions in the life of contemplation would be to try to find God by barricading yourself inside your own soul, shutting out all external reality by sheer concentration and will power, cutting yourself off from the world and others by stuffing yourself inside your own mind and closing the door like a turtle.

— Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 66