Thomas Merton and Mindful Meditation


Make Mindful Meditation a Daily Habit

Some yeaThomas Mertonrs ago I was privileged to belong to a Thomas Merton group. The group met once a month in the Golden Valley, Hereford, UK, in a wonderful little cottage overlooking Dore Abbey Church. Another even greater privilege was that the group was led by Esther de Waal, an author who had researched and written many books on Benedictine Spirituality and had a particular interest in the life and works of Thomas Merton.


Our days were spent listening to a talk by Esther in the morning, a shared silent lunch with ample time for mindful meditation, reflection and evening prayer in Dore Abbey Church. Since then I have kept up an active interest in Thomas Merton and have read many of his books, including books on silence, solitude and meditation/contemplation and have listened to many of the lectures he gave to the novices at Gethsemani.

Thomas Merton was born in January 1915 in Prades in the Pyrenees. Both his parents were artists. Sadly, when Thomas was only 6 years old, his mother died of cancer. His younger brother John Paul lived with his grandparents in America whilst Thomas went with his father to live in the south of France. Because his father was not an active believer, Thomas was not brought up with any form of traditional religion.

In 1928 he went to England to live with an Aunt and was educated in England until he left Cambridge University in 1934, finishing his university education in New York. His early days in Cambridge were notably those of wine, women and song, and even when he moved to New York this trend continued. However through a series of happenings he began a tentative journey which was eventually to take him, in 1941, to the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani. Here Thomas Merton felt as though he had come home, and his journey gradually took him into more and more solitude and silence, and a desire to “disappear into God”. He saw solitude as his “vocation”, and, as he put it  ”not flight from the world, but my place in the world”

Paradoxically, although Merton now had this desire for solitude and to live the life of a hermit, he was also more “in the world”. He wrote books, he lectured to his fellow monks and novices and travelled within America and eventually to Asia where he addressed live audiences. It was sadly on his final journey to Bangkok, to speak at a conference, where he was electrocuted and died.

It was in solitude and prayer that Merton spent time with his God. He believed in the importance of living fully and completely in the present. He saw contemplation as the response to a call from God into a deeper relationship, into the “depths of our own being.”

Esther de Vaal has written a book called “ A Seven Day Journey With Thomas Merton,” in which she explores Merton’s life and spirituality and helps the reader  to experience a time of deepening and mindful meditation within our busy lives. It is a book you can use in its entirety or one you can dip into from time to time. Whichever you choose you will inevitably come across many pearls of wisdom to help you on your journey.


Seven Day Journey With Thomas Merton Pb


Thomas Merton sketch  [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

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