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Thomas Merton, Zen, and the Deep End of the Pool

I have to admit that for reasons known only to the hidden part of my soul I have dodged the writings of Thomas Merton my whole life. I have a foggy recollection of one time picking up The Seven Storey Mountain and making a half-hearted, unsuccessful attempt to engage it.

But one door opens to another.

Over the last two or three years, I have heard a sound in the distance, something akin to the songs of two Great Horned owls who call back and forth in the dark woods of night surrounding our house. The soft echo of those songs led me to delve deeper into things I have resisted.

And so, I renewed my lifelong interest in and study of spirituality, and the next thing I knew I was pouring over one book after the next about Zen.

Little did I know that the journey would lead back to Merton. But it did.

Here’s how it happened. In an earlier blog, you will see a reference to The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau, a book released in 1965. That book made me think about Christian mysticism, and before you know it, I had a copy of Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters in my hand. That book, by the way, came out in 1966 only two years before Merton’s untimely death, and in it, Merton addresses Kapleau’s treatment of Zen.

Here’s the summary of Merton’s chapter on Zen:

The importance of this Zen intuition of reality is…it’s metaphysical honesty. It refuses to make a claim to any special revelation or to a mystical light, and yet if it is followed on, in line with its own vast and open perspectives, it is certainly compatible with a revelation of inscrutable freedom, love, and grace…Zen offers us a phenomenology and metaphysic of insight and consciousness which has extraordinary value for the West.


So what does all this have to do with the ostensible subject of this blog, i.e. how writing is good for your health? It’s opening the door. As we allow ourselves to jot down a few words here and there that process primes our minds and splays them open to the next thing. Before you know it, you’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool.

And it’s sink or swim.

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