A 40 Year "Retrospective Journey"

“Be good, keep your feet dry,
your eyes open, your heart at peace
and your soul in the joy of Christ.”
Thomas Merton

November 1, 2008

New Delhi - Dharamsala

November 1, 1968

Thomas Merton makes the journey from New Delhi to Dharamsala by train and jeep on November 1, 1968. The train trip was overnight from New Delhi to Pathankot. Merton made the trip with his friend, and Tibetan Buddhist initiate, Harold Talbot.
Merton's beautifully descriptive journal entries reflect the observant mindfulness and appreciation of a "contemplative gaze". Here is one who is awake and present to the experience of life and living it to it's fullest!

Merton writes... "When light dawned, I looked out on fields, scattered trees, tall reeds and bamboo, brick and mud villages, a road swept by rain in the night and now swept by cold wind from the mountains, men wrapped in blankets walking in the wind. Teams of oxen ploughing. Pools by the track filled with tall purple flowering weeds. A white crane starts up out of the green rushes." AJTM p.78

The scene at the train station in Pathankot is described as a "madhouse of noise". Merton and Talbot are met by a jeep from the Dalai Lama's headquarters to take them on the next leg of their journey.

Into the Mountains - Dharamsala
Merton writes... "It was a beautiful drive to Dharamsala - mountains, small villages, canyons, shrines, ruined forts, good, well-cared-for forest preserves. Then the climb to Dharamsala itself and the vast view over the plains from the village. It rained when we arrived and thunder talked to itself all over and around the cloud hidden peaks.
In the afternoon I got my first real taste of the Himalayas. I climbed a road out of the village up into the mountains, winding through pines, past places where Tibetans live and work including a small center for publication and a central office. Many Tibetans were on the road, and some were at work on a house, singing their beautiful song." AJTM p.78

Alone in the Pines... Finally!
"Finally, I was out alone in the pines, watching the clouds clear from the medium peaks, but not the high snowy ones, and the place was filled with a special majestic kind of mountain silence. At one point the sound of a goatherd's flute drifted up from a pasture below. An unforgettable valley with a river winding at the bottom, a couple of thousand feet below, and the rugged peaks above me, and pines twisted as in Chinese paintings... Great silence of the mountain..." AJTM p.79

The Silence of the Forest is my Bride
Ahhh! Finally... alone at last in the silence of the pines! Three of the great themes that resonate for the forest monk, silence, solitude, trees. I imagine this moment comes as a great relief and delight for Merton after weeks of travel, meetings, conferences, Bangkok, Calcutta, and New Delhi. It is in the silence and solitude of the forest that Merton finds himself nearest to the heart of God.

Kathleen Deignan has edited a collection of Thomas Merton's writings that touch on the depth of his "ecological consciousness" and of his deep relationship to nature, "When the Trees Say Nothing". Early this morning, in the "darkness before dawn", I found myself reading through the chapter she has called "Sanctuary", his writings on his love of forests. A few selections ...

  • "Out here in the woods I can think of nothing except God and it is not so much that I think of Him either. I am as aware of Him as the sun and the clouds and the blue sky and the thin cedar trees." WTSN p.161

  • "As soon as I get away from people the presence of God invades me." WTSN p.163

  • "Then the Spirit of God got hold of me and I started through the woods... And I thought, "Noboby ever comes here!" The marvelous quiet! The sweet scent of the woods, the clean stream, the peace, the inviolate solitude!" WTSN p.165

  • "...the silence of the forest is my bride." WTSN p.171

My little forester's heart quivers!!

Keep on trekking... Rob,

"I love the forest..." Thomas Merton

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