An excerpt nicknamed ‘The River’ from “Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere”

An excerpt nicknamed ‘The River’ from “Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere”

An excerpt from a Sounds True recording entitled “Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere”, by James Finley.

It seems to me, that what immediately occurs upon entering a river, is that you get wet. And I am here using “getting wet” as a metaphor for spontaneous contemplative experience, that one gets wet.

Now what’s so interesting about getting wet upon entering the river, is that it doesn’t matter whether it is the very first time you enter the river or whether you have entered it hundreds and hundreds of times, you get just as wet. A person doesn’t enter the river the first time and come out just a little dampish and saying, “I’ll keep working on it, I don’t think I know how to get wet yet.” Likewise, a person who has entered the river hundreds of times doesn’t come out dry and say, “I ran out of turns, I can’t get wet anymore. The river does not grant itself to me. I’ve used up my River-Entering tickets.” Now it is most likely, and certainly true, that the one who has entered the river many times, may have a profound realization, understanding, and experience of all that being wet is. But nonetheless, from the very first time one enters the river, one is wet.
It also doesn’t matter whether one enters the river after living along its banks since birth or whether one had to travel hundreds of miles to get to the river, one gets just as wet either way. It isn’t as if the one who travelled hundreds of miles gets more wet as a reward for the hardship of the journey. Whether one lived on its banks, or whether one travelled far to get there, in entering the river, one is wet.
It also doesn’t matter whether one enters the river after great and careful and determined deliberation to do so, or whether one fell in off the back of a pier, one gets just as wet. The one who arrived at the moment of entering the river by virtue of a courageous process of working up the courage to do so is not rewarded by getting more wet than the one who fell in.
Likewise, it doesn’t matter whether one enters the river in broad daylight or whether one enters the river in the secrecy of the darkness of night, (a kind of closet river-enterer, that kind of slips in while nobody’s watching). One gets just as wet either way. Whether one enters in broad daylight where all can see or whether one enters secretly in a darkness where nobody sees, one is wet.
It also doesn’t matter whether one enters all alone or enters with thousands and thousands of people, one gets just as wet. It isn’t as if you get more wet if you enter all by yourself and you have the wetness of the river all to yourself, whereas if you have to share it with all these thousands of people you don’t get as wet. You get just as wet.
It also doesn’t matter what you believe, as if people of a certain belief system would get more wet than those of another belief system, or more wet than those who hold to no belief system. It also doesn’t matter whether you be sinner or saint, one gets just as wet either way. We might call this the graciousness of the river, that she accepts all who come to her. Jesus says that just as the sun shines upon the good and the bad, so does God’s love shine upon all of us. It is this graciousness, this oceanic benevolence, this non-discriminatory, overflowing generosity that grants itself perfectly as it grants itself.
This is not to say that it is risk-free. The ego-self is fragile. It cannot tolerate too much reality at once. We  can find ourselves drowning in a depth of beneolence. We can find ourselves immersed in a generosity that we can’t tolerate, that we cannot bring ourself to bear, and in finding ourselves unable to escape from it, we’re beside ourselves. Therefore, to find an experienced river-enterer, one who offers guidance to us, in the process of entering the river….to be a seeker of the contemplative way within one’s own tradition is to be one whose fidelity to river-entering gives witness to what is most true within the tradition.

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