“There should be at least one room, or some corner, where no one will find you and disturb you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, losing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, who achieved fame as a spiritual writer. His books were written in such a way, that many Catholic Christians could understand and strive for a deeper spiritual life. To help one’s spiritual life along, Merton, along with spiritual writers before and after him, saw the need for some solitude. Merton had his own hermitage, for many of us; it may be a room with a closed door or a secluded spot in a backyard. We may find seclusion in a park, or even in a public library. It may be found in a church, or on a beach. It is just important to find a place where one can be still, both in body and mind. In that stillness, one becomes open to the Presence of God.
Of course, this is easier said, than done! When I try to sit quietly in a room, by myself, the more I try to quiet my mind, the more the monkey inside my head comes out to play. Some Zen meditation practitioners speak of the monkey mind, which skitters from one thought to another. One remedy is the practice of centering prayer, focusing on a one word mantra, like “Father,” or “Jesus”; repeating the word slowly, slowing your breath; when a thought pops up, acknowledge it, and let it go. Another remedy is the Jesus Prayer; slowly repeating the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!” Finally, there is reading Sacred Scripture, slowly, prayerfully, until a word or phrase suddenly strikes you, you begin to repeat the word or phrase over and over, reflecting on the word or phrase means for you.
The ultimate goal is to be still in mind and soul, to be open so that God can come in and touch us. The experience can be intense, it can be mild; but each of us is called to be open to an encounter with our loving God.