Merton expounds on the experience of nothingness: 

“Dance of Soul.” Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

But to each of us there is a point of nowhereness in the middle of movement, a point of nothingness in the midst of being: the incomparable point, not to be discovered by insight.  If you seek it you do not find it.  If you stop seeking, it is there.  But you must not turn to it.  Once you come aware of yourself as seeker, you are lost.  But if you are content to be lost you will be found without knowing it, precisely because you are lost, for you are, at last, nowhere.

In his poem “The Fall,” Merton puts it this way:

          To enter there is to become unnameable….
Whoever is nowhere is nobody, and therefore cannot
                   Exist except as unborn:
          No disguise will avail him anything
          Such a one is neither lost nor found.*

Both Merton and Eckhart are keen on the subject of solitude.  Eckhart says:

Thomas Merton’s hermitage, Gethsemani Abbey. Photo by Jim Forest on Flickr.

We must learn an inner solitude, wherever or with whomsoever we may be.  One must learn to penetrate things and find God there.

In other words, solitude is wherever Divinity is and Divinity is everywhere and wherever we find ourselves.  But it is learning to let go and let be, to taste nothingness, that allows us to experience the Divine in all circumstances.  Yet this takes practice and knowing ourselves and plenty of patience as well. 

Merton writes in his Asian Journal about a brief retreat he undertook while there.  

This is a good retreat and I appreciate the quiet more than I can say.  This quiet, with time to read, study, meditate, and not talk to anyone, is something essential in my life.

“Thomas Merton.” Photo by Jim Forest on Flickr.

In his journal written on his sojourn in May, 1968 to northern California, he puts it this way:  

I am the utter poverty of God.  I am His emptiness, littleness, nothingness, lostness.  When this is understood, my life in His freedom the self-emptying of God in me is the fullness of grace.  A love for God that knows no reason because He is the fullness of grace.  A love for God that knows no reason because He is God; a love without measure, a love for God as personal.  The Ishvara appears as personal in order to inspire this love.  Love for all, hatred of none, is the fruit and manifestation of love for God—peace and satisfaction.  Forgetfulness of worldly pleasure, selfishness, and so on in the love for God, channeling all passion and emotion into the love for God. 

We see that Merton draws very heavily from Eckhart in his passages of the Via Negativa.  They are companions on the “wayless way” (Eckhart).


*See Sister Therese Lentfoehr, Words and Silence: On the Poetry of Thomas Merton (NY: New Directions, 1979), p. 107.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 77f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Greeting the new day, Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, Maine. Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

How important is solitude to you? Are you able to find an “inner solitude” that Eckhart talks about both when alone and when with others around you?  What follows from that?


Recommended Reading

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism


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17 thoughts on “Merton & Eckhart on Nothingness & Solitude”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1000 characters (roughly 200 words). Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day’s Meditation.  If your comment is not accepted you can shorten and resubmit it.   As always, we look forward to your comments!!
    The Daily Meditation Team

  2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Your words: “there is a point of nowhereness in the middle of movement, a point of nothingness in the midst of being: the incomparable point, not to be discovered by insight. If you seek it you do not find it. If you stop seeking, it is there,” reminded me of the Beatles song, “Nowhere Man.” But this doesn’t mean that there is nowhere to go, but that we need to learn to go with the flow–wherever it takes us. I’ll have to read the lyrics to that song. And in our Queries for Contemplation you ask us: “How important is solitude to you?” Solitude is very important to me. And so I do my posts of this site, and write this comment after midnight, when no one else is awake. You also ask us: “Are you able to find an ‘inner solitude’ that Eckhart talks about both when alone and when with others around you?” Sometimes. And what follows from that, is that at those times I am at peace–and what could be better?

  3. Avatar

    One doesn’t fully know a thing until they’re alone with it, allowing the kind of access and intimacy that otherwise remains secreted. Unless amply reflective, most of us aren’t fully known to others, even to ourselves. While divinity knows us intimately like no other, few can say the converse, and thus remain estranged from s-he who is closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet. There are many facets to knowing anything fully. One is the amount of time spent alone with it compared to other things. Another is that one never really knows a thing until they know its opposite. Thus, solitude is to companionship what solitaire is to playing cards, what solidarity is to discord, what soliloquy is to dialogue, solemn is to frivolous, or what slavery is to freedom. A stern friend of the godly, solitude leaves the spirit-annexed soul free to speak in loving companionship with us like no other.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Joe, I felt that this, what you wrote this morning is beautiful and expresses what I know: “One doesn’t fully know a thing until they’re alone with it, allowing the kind of access and intimacy that otherwise remains secreted. Unless amply reflective, most of us aren’t fully known to others, even to ourselves. While divinity knows us intimately like no other…”

  4. Avatar

    I love today’s meditation and your words of invitation Matthew, echoing Eckhart and Merton. I love!! Thunderstorms. And many times sit outdoors as they approach watching the lightening and listening to the heralding thunder. I now have this wonderful meditation to reflect on. I’ll never view an approaching thunderstorm the same. Thank you!
    And with this new format to our comments section I look forward to hearing from more readers!!

  5. Avatar

    Yes, Matthew, solitude is very important to me on my contemplative spiritual journey, like it has been for many of our past and present mystics from all genuine spiritual traditions around the world, including Indigenous peoples with their sacred relationships with Mother Nature. The Sacred or Divine Presence of Loving Oneness is always within and among us, especially in our silence and solitude, and among Mother Nature. All of us have this Loving Unifying Presence within our hearts, but we must gracefully develop this awareness/consciousness by faithfully developing the spiritual practice of daily silent meditation/contemplative prayer in order to learn to heal and quiet our busy conditioned minds. Thus spiritual transformation, both personal and communal, becomes possible for all humanity with one another — Divine Loving Diverse Oneness ~ our Beloved Cosmic Christ Consciousness….
    ?❤️??

  6. Avatar

    What really speaks to me in todays DM are the words, “We must learn an inner solitude… to penetrate things and find God there.” Merton also stated, “That the camera in one’s hands, immediately becomes an instrument of contemplation.” I’ve been using this instrument for many years, as a spiritual practice of Lectio/Visio Divina… learning the importance of inner solitude… that deep penetration of listening, seeing and finding God there… present in the essence of everything, everywhere. Using the camera as a spiritual practice as well as sacred journalling, is my creative attempt to convey this inner solitude of penetrating the mystery of God… deeply listening, seeing, finding, encountering and experiencing for myself… sacred moments of being and living in this spiritual reality. Through this… I am consciously awakened to the truth that I’ve never really left the garden of paradise… that there is no seperation… that the as above and the so below are One… mirroring one another in the beauty and goodness of essence… always present in its eternal penetrating presence… which I too am a reflection of… as both a human and divine expression of God.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You wrote today about how Merton stated, “That the camera in one’s hands, immediately becomes an instrument of contemplation.” I’ve been using this instrument for many years, as a spiritual practice of Lectio/Visio Divina… learning the importance of inner solitude… that deep penetration of listening, seeing and finding God there… present in the essence of everything, everywhere.” I recently wrote a book that is based on Lectio Divina, but I hade not even thought about Visio Divina–and I’m an artist! Your comment is beautiful and your mentioning Visio Divina is enlightening to me… Thank you!

  7. Avatar

    …sojourn in May, 1968 to Northern California— “I am the utter poverty of God.” ~Thomas Merton~
    Redwoods Abbey, Whitethorn, CA

    I visited often when I was a ranger for BLM in the North Coast District. ??❤️

  8. Avatar

    Inner solitude. Since the beginning of Lent, I have retreated each morning to a place in my home where I spend time with “Sounds of the Eternal,” John Philip Newell’s book of prayers and meditations and his matched CD of Celtic Christian chants. (Many are on YouTube.) Between chants and readings, I read Matthew’s Daily Meditations. Then I meditate for 20-25 minutes. When I don’t take time for my solitary ritual, the day goes less well. Centering myself in this way helps me be forbearing when others are discourteous or abusive. (One of John Philip’s prayers ends “Teach us to search for you in our own depths that we may find you in every living soul.”) Most of the people choose to surround myself with are good-hearted, but I can’t choose everyone I encounter. So it is my goal to be open-hearted to everyone and offer them a way to find that peace within themselves, even when it is challenging as it often is for me. My morning quiet time helps.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, I too feel like you in that : “Most of the people I choose to surround myself with are good-hearted, but I can’t choose everyone I encounter. So it is my goal to be open-hearted to everyone and offer them a way to find that peace within themselves, even when it is challenging as it often is for me.” I feel that this is the best way to live in our world.

  9. Avatar
    Alexandra Vieira

    It took me 50 years, waiting, to reach the point when, I would be ready and the master would come. Well, so many masters in the last 5 years, I’m in heaven on earth with so much light!! After a lifetime of dark knights, I’m exhausted but always feeling so blessed. What a ride..! Thank you present and past Mystics! I see the light rising, waking up the sleeping brothers and sisters, all over the world!

  10. Avatar

    I have always prized solitude and am fortunate in being able to find it easily, even in this low income elder high rise apartment complex of 149 units. After many years, I have developed the skill of finding it even in company, and my neighbors respect my privacy, but I have also learned how to maintain the sense of solitude in the midst of noise/conflict. Inner solitude brings me peace and is a protection against the darkness of bad news and tragedy that prevails in the media and “social” media. Inner solitude gives me the strength to keep centered and act in loving and hopefully productive ways.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, I appreciate what you wrote in saying that you have, “learned how to maintain the sense of solitude in the midst of noise/conflict. Inner solitude brings me peace and is a protection against the darkness of bad news and tragedy that prevails in the media and “social” media.” I need this in my life as well. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Avatar

    I recall reading T. S. Eliot decades ago and trying to imagine it. I didn’t know about ‘deep meditation’ at the time.

    “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
    There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
    ― T.S. Eliot

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