“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.”
Thomas Merton, 1915-1968
Trappist monk, mystic,writer, social activist
From his journal, A Search for Solitude, October 2, 1958
Last January, my kids refused to participate in my annual New Year’s Resolution exercise even though I came to the table with paper and pencils. Their rebellion had been building gradually for the past several years so I wasn’t completely surprised, just a little disappointed.
But then I decided to follow their lead.
Instead of making a list of smart, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals, I made a One Word Resolution. You can read why I chose authentic here, but basically, I hoped the word would help me be more deliberate about the activities I pursued, more attuned to the reasons why I was interested in a specific project, the reason to continue current activities, and the decision to commit to new projects.
I’m somewhat surprised at how well my one word resolution worked. I’m a check-if-off-the-list sort of gal and usually do pretty well with SMART goals, but authentic helped me realize that checking items off a list doesn’t necessarily equate to personal growth.
Take my writing year, for example. I could have written: 1) Read and complete exercises in The Copyeditor’s Handbook by November 30th. 2) Write three book reviews for The Internet Review of Books. and 3) Write three For Your Journal prompts for Literary Mama every month.
Instead, I asked: “Would I be interested in a job as a copyeditor?” “What kinds of books do I like to read?” and “What action do I want Literary Mama readers to take after they read what I’ve written?”
I still made to-do lists (lots of them!), but I answered the questions first. By doing so, I changed the emphasis from the verb--read, complete, write--to the subject--I--and discovered how and why the verbs describe who I am.
I'm going to commit to a one word resolution again in 2013. What about you?
About Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton is the author of more than 70 books and hundreds of poems, essays and articles on spirituality, peace, justice, and ecumenism. He had little formal religious education as a child, but is regarded as one of the most influential American Catholic writers of the 20th century, best known for New Seeds of Contemplation, Zen and the Birds of Appetite and the autobiography of his childhood and young adult years, The Seven Storey Mountain.
He started keeping a journal when he was 16 years old and starting writing while at Columbia University. He joined the Catholic Church at age 23 and after teaching one year, entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a community of Trappist monks in Kentucky. His search for solitude led him to the life of a hermit, although the public never allowed him to fully live as one. He was a proponent of interfaith understanding and East-West dialog. During the last years of his life, he was exploring Asian religions.
The quote above is from The Search for Solitude, the third of his seven journals. In entries written earlier that year, he explores his vocation, what he should do and what he’s pulled to do, fate, and God’s will. On April 20th, he writes that his job is to “shut up…and apply myself to learning and to open my eyes and see what is going on.” On August 3, he writes that the will of God “is not a ‘fate’ to which we submit but a creative act in our life producing something absolutely new.”
The October 2nd entry, “Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.” continues with: “That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself. For it is the unaccepted self that stands in my way and will continue to do so as long as it is not accepted.”