Thomas Merton on Solving Problems

The internet is full of advice; career advice, health advice, advice that will solve all your problems, financial advice, advice on raising children. Ask me a question, and I will find you 40 blog posts that claim to have the answer.

The crazy thing is that most of our questions and problems don’t need blog posts or books or YouTube for answers. In fact, blog posts, books, and YouTube, usually just overcomplicate things.

In his book “The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation,” Thomas Merton gives some great advice on solving problems.

His advice is damn simple, and in some ways it is very easy to follow. It is also unique. You won’t see this advice on a blog or in a book. It makes so much sense, but it doesn’t make c-e-n-t-s. It is not profitable. It does not need a program or prescription, so most people don’t care to teach it.

If you are not a contemplative, don’t worry. This advice applies to everybody. One of Merton’s brothers, Father James Conner, OSCO, explains, Merton belonged to an Order that is called contemplative. But he was not addressing his writings only to monks. He wrote for all people everywhere. He fully realized, as one of his books is entitled, that “No Man is an Island”. The fact that God became man means that every person is called to this life of contemplation which is the realization of our true nature.”

With that said, here is Merton’s beautiful advice:

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you. Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory exterior self. The solution of most such problems comes with the dissolution of this false self. And consequently another law of contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced. And again, this means renouncing the illusory self that seeks to be “happy” and to find “fulfillment” (whatever that may mean) in contemplation. For the contemplative and spiritual self, the dormant, mysterious, and hidden self that is always effaced by the activity of our exterior self does not seek fulfillment. It is content to be, and in its being it is fulfilled, because its being is rooted in God.”

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