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The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  290 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Now in paperback, revised and redesigned: This is Thomas Merton's last book, in which he draws on both Eastern and Western traditions to explore the hot topic of contemplation/meditation in depth and to show how we can practice true contemplation in everyday life.

Never before published except as a series of articles (one per chapter) in an academic journal, this book on
Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 25th 2004 by HarperOne (first published 1959)
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Larry Hansen
If you are interested in the contemplative life this book will inspire you and may even intimidate you.

Merton, as always, gives great insights and observations. There are times when he seems to be at the limits of acceptable church theology and I think he would do better to ignore those restrictions. Whether he is restrained by the censors or honoring his own church vows, I'm not sure, but I think one can live a fully contemplative life outside the church and Merton knew that although he
Nancy Bevilaqua
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Until recently, I knew almost nothing of Thomas Merton other than that he'd been a Christian monk with a strong interest in Buddhism and "Eastern religions," and that he'd died as the result of an accidental electrocution in Thailand. Now I know a little more, and I'm developing a great deal of respect for the man's mind, his learnedness, and his openness to other cultures and non-Christian ways of approaching spirituality, even as he lived in relative seclusion in a monastery in Kentucky.

Jun 04, 2008 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book but I found it also to be very challenging. Since I was not raised in the church and have not yet read the Bible, I had a hard time understanding some of the esoteric language and ideas regarding Christian faith. What I found interesting, however, is how similar Christian contemplation is to Eastern, specifically Buddhist, meditation and study. I like reading authors like Merton because they go beyond a common or mainstream understanding of Christianity and into more ...more
DJ Dycus
A very insightful book about Christian spirituality. Interesting, challenging. Unlike some of his other books on meditation, this one is a little more practical.
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation by Thomas Merton.
Some of the pearls found in this work of Merton written just before he left for Asia where he died. The best estimation of when that was seems to be sometime in September 1959.
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. Pg.2 The contemplative life is primarily a life of unity. A contemplative is one who has transcended
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is maddening to think these words of wisdom couldn't have been around 40 years ago! Although it is obvious Thomas Merton was disappointed in this "not as yet a book" but every nugget has relevance for all people aware of the spiritual presence and its sustaining quality whether you are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, or even an Agnostic. We need assurance that our exterior lives are not the answer for complete peace and comfort, once we explore that inner side and allow meditation to take its ...more
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was a challenge for me - my only Merton book. At the end though, among the things which I will take with me is this: "The contemplative does not set out to achieve a kind of intuitive mastery of history, or of man's spirit, or of the things of God. He seeks the center of his own living truth, and there all these other mysteries is granted to him at the moment when he needs it. If he needs nothing, nothing is granted. ... All that he needs comes to him from God, even before he begins to ...more
Mike Morris
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Merton is brilliant and clear here, citing 5 different historical figures on the subject of the contemplation of God. Herein, he gives "mysticism" a good name, that being the contemplation of good through meditation, while condemning "illuminism" which is meditation for its own sake. He is at pains several times in the book to balance some of his comments. For example: the revelation of God through force of will in contemplation is a red herring. He strives to point out that any exercise of the ...more
Cory Trenda
Good start but seemed to be speaking beyond his authority

The foreword says this gives a glimpse of Merton’s evolving thought in the middle of his life. Interesting for scholars perhaps.
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mature Merton—my lifetime mentor. Important reflection of his growth and insight. The last chapter is essential Merton.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I lost this book in a move and then found it. I'm glad I did because it's brilliant. At times his insight is startling and precise.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Seems real good. Still working on it.
Oct 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. Maybe I found the latinate jargon of academia off-putting (ontological this, epistemological that), and had hoped for something more avuncula, but reading this was more like wading through a very rough draft of a Master's thesis.

There were gems though. For example, the following passage on how sin can be an obstacle to spiritual liberation:

"It is not merely a sense of guilt referred to the authority of God. It is a sense of evil in myself. Not because I have violated a law outside
Andrew Marr
It is a standing joke in monastic circles that Thomas Merton has written many more books since he died than during his life. That speaks volumes (literally) for the papers and letters left behind. In 1959, Thomas Merton began a thorough revision of a much earlier work on contemplative prayer. Towards the end of his life he tinkered with it a little more. Not having arrived at a final form with this book before his sudden death. it was punished many years later. Merton wrote much about ...more
Dec 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the first full comprehensive book I've read on contemplation by Thomas Merton. He ties the Christian contemplative experience with other traditions especially within in Zen Buddhism, but lays out the differences also. I especially enjoy his section about the problems of contemplative life for monastics and lay people. I'll let his own words speak for themselves with a quote:

Before there can be any external freedom, man[woman:] must learn to find the way to freedom within himself
Hank Fay
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion-etc
Merton delayed (30 years) publishing the manuscript that Shannon has (I think helpfully) rearranged.

He published it literally on his way out of the country, on his (fateful) Asian trip.

It's easy to determine why he would have waited; and why he would have done so on the way out of the country: it puts religious dogma in its rightful place -- the same place that now-Pope Francis puts it. That rightful place happens to be the dustbin of history. He makes the case that "the inner spirit infused
Well, I'm in the process of typing out swathes of the text that I want to have on hand to keep contemplating (no pun intended) once the book goes back to the library. I've also decided that I need to, at minimum, read more Merton, The Cloud of Unknowing and some of the work of St John of the Cross in the not-too-distant future.

So those two things are both positives.

At times this book went over my head. But at other times it hit me right in the gut, and even the heart.

In the end, it's one of
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spiritual
I would recommend reading one or two lighter books on contemplation and possibly some other of Thomas Merton before reading this. I believe this was the last of his writing before his death and this is heavily edited by him. Obviously he struggled with putting his thoughts on contemplation so that those non-monks of us could understand.

Thoses of us who seek contemplation may find his describing the contemplation that just happens because we strive to be close to Christ consoling. Contemplation
Grete Howland
Jun 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Not Merton's best published work, but then it wasn't finished and published before his death, so that makes sense. Some things he said I found quite helpful and profound (like how contemplative practice is meant to be a foundation for life instead of a rejection of it) but then others I personally and strongly disagree with (such as humans' inherent sinfulness). It was interesting enough; I'm glad I read it.
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Exploring a new way of thinking...
Mar 15, 2008 rated it liked it
ahhhhhhhh, it's a little too much. I started reading but I'm not ready for it yet.....
Gunner Guidry
May 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
whew! tough book. Need a lot of coffee to read this one......
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
This book opens the door to the life that we all desire. In this book, you will find the peace, joy, and contentment that you have been looking for your whole life.
Patti Clement
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I never tire reading anything Merton!
Kent Robinson
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A truly insightful book on Christian Spirituality and the contemplative life. I really like how Merton compared and contrasted Christian Spirituality with eastern spirituality, like Zen Buddhism.
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books about meditation wether you are Buddhist Christian or not.
Jimmy Locklear
Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Slow, but rich read

I have read this book over an 18 month period, which for me was perfect. These are truly "notes" that have polished a bit, but there are not hard opinions or positions, but ways of Contemplation to consider and put into personal practice. This is a great survey or resource on contemplation.
I have read this book only once (the Kindle version).
Feb 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Excellent read for those seeking enlightenment. Has compelled me to add more Merton to my list.
This book, more than others, provides a keen sense of Merton's evolving view of the inner journey. Very helpful~
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Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of ...more
“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.” 5 likes
“Contemplation in the age of Auschwitz and Dachau, Solovky and Karaganda is something darker and more fearsome than contemplation in the age of the Church Fathers. For that very reason, the urge to seek a path of spiritual light can be a subtle temptation to sin. It certainly is sin if it means a frank rejection of the burden of our age, an escape into unreality and spiritual illusion, so as not to share the misery of other men.” 5 likes
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