I came across the Enneagram before I started reading Plato, and I read a few
books about the subject, my favourite of which was Discovering the Enneagram by Richard Rohr. Reading books about psychological typologies
is a good stepping stone toward philosophy, although the difference
between a philosopher and someone like Richard Rohr is
that we philosophers don't just think about personality types, but also where
the types came from. So the first thing a philosopher is going to do
when he studies the Enneagram is look for some kind of pattern; eg are
the nine types a square composed from two tripartite divisions, such as
(Catholic, Puritan, Orthodox) along one axis and something else on the
other; eg alternatively, are the nine from the Pythagorean 10 pattern used in Plato's Republic,
which is a 4 then 3 then 2 then 1. Inside the Enneagram there are two
growth cycles, and one cycle strangely follows the sequence of digits found in
1/7 expressed as base 10. For a philosopher to take the Enneagram seriously he
needs to know why that's the case, he can't live with unreasoned claims, even if
they are right not knowing why will torture him. Rohr doesn't work at this
scientific-philosophical level, he is more empirical and intuitive. Although it
seems to me that there is something in the Enneagram, because it's not been
scientifically explained I no longer think about it very often these days.
Nevertheless I am glad I briefly studied it because I think it opened my
mind. If you are interested in the Enneagram
then I think Rohr's book is a great place to start, I think it's
full of depth and beauty. Rohr is a Franciscan monk who uses the Enneagram as a therapeutic tool to help people improve their lives.
Philosophers talk about "becoming wise by learning about human nature",
Rohr calls this growth "self redemption", and he contrasts it with
"divine redemption", by which he means going to heaven not because we have
become wise, but because we have led a pious life doing good works. Rohr says each Enneagram type has it its
psychological challenges, such as vanity, and he calls these failings "sins".
So Rohr says that by
identifying one's Enneagram type and
understanding its strengths and weakness one can grow in a better person. I
think the idea of the Ancient Greeks was similar, although god is one, they
spilt him into twelve paths, giving you twelve different models of virtue. Some find the heavy Christian
language off putting, but I don't think its a problem at all, in fact it
adds greatly to the both the beauty and the understanding.
The extract from his book which I have scanned and reproduced below describes the famous Type 4 personality, which is often called the "romantic idealist"...
The Need To Be Special
FOURs put their gifts to work to awaken a sense of beauty and harmony in their surroundings They are highly sensitive and almost always artistically gifted; they can express their feelings in dance, music, painting, the theater, or literature. Everything with vital energy attracts them; they grasp the moods and feelings of other people and the atmosphere of places and events with seismographic precision.
FOURs are by nature ecumenically oriented. They reject the division of the world into “sacred” and “profane.” They are more at home in the realm of the unconscious, of symbols and dreams, than in the real world. Symbols help them to be with themselves and to express them selves. They also have the gift of helping others to develop an eye for the beautiful and for the world of dreams and symbols. The ritual, well done, is reality for the FOUR.
FOURs too draw their vital energy from others. Their life question is: “What do you think of me? Do you notice me? Do I catch your eye?”
FOURs strive to be aesthetically attractive, to be exceptional, to be creative, or, in some cases, to appear esoteric, eccentric, extravagant, or exotic.
But the style and “spontaneity” of an unredeemed FOUR have something artificial about them. FOURs come out of their room and say: “I just threw a few things on in a hurry.” But in fact the effects have been very carefully chosen. They deliberately put together the combination (or non-combination) of clothes and colors to stand out from the others.
The life of FOURs is primarily shaped by longing: the longing for beauty and the wish that the world and life fit together into a harmonic whole. Dostoyevsky once said: “The world will be saved by beauty.” FOURs believe in this principle.
In their childhood FOURs have often had the experience of the present being unbearable and meaningless. Quite often this was connected with a very painful experience of loss. This loss can be real (death of a parent, illegitimate birth, divorce, moving and being uprooted, an undependable parent, the parents’ preference for a sibling, etc.) or it can have been felt “only” emotionally. Positive role models have been missing, to some extent. Thus the child in the search for identity turns toward the inner world. Because the original source of love was missing or was too weak, new sources of love had to be created in the imagination. The longing of FOURs is directed to that lost love; it is at once a yearning to go home and to go far away. They look forward to the day when the great love will come (back), and they are convinced that this great love will redeem them.
At times the anger over a loss that has been suffered is so deep that it cannot be tolerated. Instead unredeemed FOURs direct it against them selves. They believe that for some reason they are themselves guilty for experiencing rejection and privation, and so they consider them selves “bad.” Many FOURs report that they are ruled by a hidden shame. FOURs trapped in then will repeatedly cultivate their “badness” and thereby keep producing situations in which they are rejected or abandoned. Scandalous behavior exercises a certain charm on them; what is dark and forbidden has a peculiar power of attraction.
Most FOURS are of the opinion that society’s norms don’t hold for them. On the strength of their extraordinary suffering they usually feel themselves to be strangers and outsiders by nature. As such they assume the right to lay down their own norms. Many FOURs have an elitist consciousness. They try to meet special standards and feel a deficiency when that continually proves unsuccessful.
FOURs are easy to recognize. First, they have a tendency to wear odd clothes. Almost all FOURs demonstrate their melancholy side with a preference for colors such as black and violet. Some are also inclined to dress in as motley and crazy a manner as possible. Many are vegetarians, animal rights activists, feminists, and adherents to eccentric ideas about health. They often wear scarfs or berets.
Possession brings FOURs little joy. Longing is more important than having. As soon as they possess the object of their desires, they are generally disappointed. For that reason they can be very complicated love partners. A FOUR once told me her story. As a young girl she longed with every fiber of her being for her future husband. She moved heaven and earth to get him. But on the day of her wedding her romantic feelings melted into thin air. It wasn’t long before she left him. At that moment she fell in love with him again. When her husband came back, the following took place: “As soon as he stood in front of the door, my love died. I reproached him for everything he had done to me. As soon as he was fed up with my wailing and turned away again to leave, my love awoke once more.” To outsiders this sounds grotesque or almost funny. But it’s part of the terrible dilemma in which unredeemed FOURs are caught. They can’t live in the present, which is always full of ordinariness. But when their longing is realized, it is never as special as the fantasy itself was.
FOURs revere great authorities: important poets, musicians, gurus, counselors, who have something “deep” about them or are something “larger than life.” Only this sort of “inner authority” counts. Formal authorities that aren’t backed up by their personality make no impression on a FOUR. Their nose for the “authentic” is infallible.
All types of this group have a natural eye for beauty. That is why many of them become artists, musicians, poets, and playwrights. In the Church they are advocates and designers of creative services. They have a sense of liturgy, ritual, and shaping space. Their sensitivity to style leaves the rest of pale with envy. Most FOURs have exquisite taste. They don’t buy their paintings in Woolworth’s, and they prefer to buy their clothes in a second-hand shop or a boutique rather than off the rack. They would be mortified to have to settle for cheap mass produced stuff that thousands of others wear. But like all of us, they too are inclined to exaggerate their gifts and with a certain arrogance they make other people feel their “aesthetic superiority.” FOURs hate everything that is stale, old-fashioned, plain, average, styleless, and “normal.”
At the same time they steal a glance of secret envy at us normal consumers who can’t shine with so much class and style. FOURs have a tendency to idealize the “unwashed masses” and can write great romantic novels about the noble poor (Victor Hugo). But they do this from an ivory tower and in reality they can hardly endure living in real dirt and hard-core poverty.
The life program of FOURs could be described as an eternal quest for the Holy Grail. The Grail emerged around the end of twelfth century in Old French and Provençal literature. According to tradition it was the vessel used at the Last Supper, which Joseph of Arimathea is also supposed to have used to catch the blood of Christ.
The Grail confers heavenly and earthly happiness upon its possessor, but only the “pure” knight who is destined to do so can find it. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal (ca. 1200) the Grail is a stone with marvelous powers that is guarded by angels and later preserved at the fortress of Munsalvaesche, a mixture of a Grimm brothers “table-set-yourself” and a magic holy fetish (the Grail gets its power from a host that was brought to it on Good Friday by a dove). Richard Wagner used the Parsifal legend, arbitrarily transformed in his operas Parsifal and Lohengrin.
A similar motif is the
search for a specific flower, which first comes up in the Roman de la Rose,
The same motif returns in the romantic longing for the mysterious Blue Flower (Novalis), which symbolizes the striving of the human soul for fulfillment and wholeness:
He dreamed that he was sitting on the soft turf by the margin of a fountain, whose waters flowed into the air, and seemed to vanish in it. Dark blue rocks with various colored veins rose in the distance. The daylight around him was milder and clearer than usual; the sky was of a sombre hue, filling the air with the richest perfume. But what most attracted his notice, was a tall, light-blue flower, which stood nearest the fountain, and touched it with its broad, glossy leaves. . . . But he saw the blue flower alone, and gazed long upon it with inexpressible tenderness.
FOURs face the temptation to strive frantically for authenticity. Children, nature, and everything that radiates originality awakens in them the longing for the simplicity and naturalness that they lost at some point. The more unredeemed FOURs struggle to be authentic, the more they strike the people around them as mannered.
The specific defense mechanism of FOURs is artificial sublimation. Feelings are not expressed directly, but indirectly through symbols, rituals, and dramatic styling. This is supposed to alleviate the pain of real grief and the fear of rejection. The unredeemed FOUR is convinced that “anyone who would see me directly the way I am couldn’t bear the sight.”
This leads many FOURs to be more at home in their art than with other people. That is why they have to learn, really learn, the authentic capacity to love. Enthusiasm for other people can come and go. There is danger here that others will be used only as emotional releases for certain longings, memories, or dreams.
FOURs sometimes shape
their lives like a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. Clothing, interior
decoration, hobbies, circle of friends, and habits are adjusted to each other in
a way that often seems accidental but in reality is carefully staged. Aesthetic
points of view, which often can be appreciated only with difficulty, play the
lead role here. One classic expression of the attitude is what is called “
The root sin is envy. They see immediately who has more style, more class, more taste, more talent, more unusual ideas, more genius than they do. They see who is simpler, more natural, more normal, and “healthier” than they are. There is nothing that a FOUR couldn’t be envious about. Helen Palmer quotes a FOUR “How is it that other people seem to hold hands and smile a lot? What do they have with each other that I don’t have? You get on a Holy Grail search to find the something more; grasping for something that satisfied my friends, but which misses me entirely.”
Envy can also be expressed as jealousy, as soon as relationships come into play. FOURs often live in fear that somebody else could be more attractive, original, and interesting as a partner. This is how self-conscious FOURs sometimes appear; inside them a child is struggling with feelings of inferiority: “I don’t deserve to be loved. I have to make an impression so that I’m not overlooked and abandoned again.” That is why many FOURs experience the domain of close personal relations as an arena for combat and competition.
FOURs avoid ordinariness: everything that is current, conventional, and normal. The requirement of being like everyone else can unleash downright panic among them. That is why they refuse to change even more stubbornly than the other types. FOURs say: “But I like to be different. I don’t want to fit in the way all the others do.” FOURs have acquired their status, their circle of friends, their role, their flair, and the admiration of many people through their striking behavior. Unredeemed FOURs don’t want to have anyone spoil this game for them. That is, until one day they taste its dark side. Then they notice that all this prevents them from loving. They see how eccentric they are. But it usually takes a long time before they are ready to give up their self-image. In this respect FOURs can be pig-headed. They can, of course, joke ironically or sarcastically about their moodiness and peculiarities, about their elitist affectation, and their snobishness. But the step to real self-criticism is substantially harder to take.
In the past FOURs were
often thrown out of religious communities because they didn’t conform. Until
recently monasteries and convents used to place a high value on uniformity.
Everybody wore the same brown cowl. When I gave a seminar on the Enneagram to
the Franciscans in
The pitfall of FOURs is their melancholy, a “sweet sadness” that lies over their whole lives like a fog. FOURs have to be depressed and suffer from time to time in order to be happy. Helen Palmer calls them the “tragic romantics.” Quotations from the romantic period illustrate this:
“Melancholy lays hold of you because there is no world in which you can act” (Bettina von Arnim). “Melancholy is the happiness of being sad” (Victor Hugo). The greater the pains and the depression, the more creative FOURs tan become. Their pleasure in suffering has been invoked and described in countless poetic self-reflections by literary romantics from all periods and cultures:
. . and add to this, that I taste a false sweetness in everything I suffer from. This sad state of soul is for me an abundance of pains, misery, and terror, an open path to despair.. . . And the crowning point of all woes is that I feed with a certain silent lustfulness on my tears and pains and only against my will do I tear myself away from them. (Petrarch, 1304—1374)
Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) was the expression of his tragic-romantic Sturm-und-D rang period. So many young people identified with Werther that there was a wave of suicides.
FOURs often have an affinity with death, perhaps because it means the ultimate lament, the definitive longing, or also because only death can make beauty eternal. For dramaturgical reasons great love stories must almost necessarily end in death. The idea of Romeo and Juliet getting married, having children, and leading a wholly “normal” married life would be too banal; it would impair the universality and greatness of their love.
Another Franciscan whom I am friends with and who is likewise a FOUR told me the following: As a young man he used to sketch out detailed fantasies of his death. The day he died would have to be aesthetically perfect. He wanted to wait until some people whom he loved had deeply hurt him. This way he could give them the definitive punishment. It absolutely had to be springtime; then he would stand under a cherry tree in blossom and drink a poisoned cup. He would collapse, and the cherry blossoms would gently flutter down onto his body. My friend would scarcely have thought of realizing this fantasy: but such morbid reveries are not unusual among FOURs.
Romantic poems can be recognized by the way they revolve around love, beauty, and death. All other subjects are not great enough:
Whoever has looked upon beauty with his eyes
Has already gone home to death,
He will be useless for service on this earth,
And yet he will tremble before death,
Whoever has looked upon beauty with his eyes.
For him the pain of love lasts forever,
For only a fool can hope on this earth
To satisfy such a drive:
Whoever has been struck by the arrow of beauty
For him the pain of love lasts forever.
Ah, he would wish to dry up like a spring,
To suck a poison from every breath of air,
And smell death in every flower:
Whoever has seen death with his eyes,
Ah, he would wish to dry up like a spring.
— August Graf von Platen, 1796—1835
Since FOURs as a rule direct their aggressions against themselves, it often happens that they are disgusted by themselves and their bodies. Although they are generally very slender and attractive, they tend to find themselves too fat and too ugly. They keep trying new diet plans; the inclination to anorexia appears fairly frequently among FOUR women.
FOURs need friends and partners who will bear with them without letting themselves be drawn into the mood shifts that FOURs have. They need to experience a loyalty that stands firm. Partnership with an unredeemed FOUR is, to be sure, irritating, and requires tolerance. Since FOURs find the present — including their current partner — deficient to begin with, that partner can be exposed to a steady stream of biting criticism. Since they are on hand and easily had, those partners seem less attractive. This can even lead to FOURs’ being impotent or refusing the other person sexually. Partners of an unredeemed FOUR are subjected to the hot-and-cold treatment, now seduction, now rejection. If they withdraw, they will be lured back by every means. In extreme situations this can be bound up with dramatic scenes, going as far as suicide threats. If the partner is available, then his or her faults and defects once again come into a harsh light. It’s like a rehearsed dance: “If you take a step forward, I take a step back. If you take a step back, I take a step toward you.”
The love affair of the Dahish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813— 55) with Regine Olsen’ mirrors the tragic nature of this “disposition.” Kierkegaard broke the engagement after a year, because he thought he shouldn’t burden Regine with his melancholy. The conversion of this inner situation into literature led to his first aesthetic works.
Many FOURs vacillate between phases of exaggerated activity and others in which they are withdrawn and quasi-paralyzed. This manic-depressive structure can in some people who are highly introverted (stronger influence of the FIVE wing) turn into an altogether depressive structure. FOURs whose more success-oriented, extroverted THREE wing is dominant are by contrast often hyperactive. These two “subtypes” of FOUR do not look very similar at first glance.
The depression of unredeemed FOURs is different from normal grief, which all people experience. It is bound up with the feeling of the unique ness and vastness of their own suffering and with the unwillingness to accept help. Behind the excuse that nobody would understand them lies the refusal to mourn. This is how they desperately cling to what has been lost.
Many FOURs take their feelings very seriously and are deeply of fended when they are “hurt.” Criticism of their artistic expressions can wound them in their innermost selves and drive them into retreat. On the other hand they tend to run themselves down. A painter who is a FOUR is the only one allowed to criticize his pictures.
The biography of James Dean (1931—55), who portrayed young rebels, is almost paradigmatic. At eight years of age “Jimmy” lost his mother, who had given him dance and violin lessons. As a young man he had a precipitous theater and film career: He developed into an enfant terrible.
He could sit down on a chair in the middle of the street and enjoy the chorus of honking from the drivers. There are photos showing him sitting in a coffin in a funeral parlor. He always had his bongos with him; their noise drew the attention of people around him.
He used his confusion, his enigmatic nature, and his impenetrability to create his own myth: “We’re fish and we drown. We stay in our world and wonder. The lucky ones are taught to ask why. Nobody knows the answer.” Thoughtlessness and love of risk-taking — traits that many FOURs share — could be seen in his predilection for motorcycles and fast cars. F-J took part in auto races: “That’s the only time I feel whole.” At the age of twenty-four he died in a car crash, which he caused by speeding. Although he made only three films, a cult sprang up after his death that persists today.
Dazzling figures like James Dean invite others to project their own dreams onto them. Their lack of clarity magnetically draws other people’s unsettled needs and wishes. The capacity to embody many characters and still remain nebulous makes many FOURs attractive and dangerous. If you reach out to them and try to touch them personally, you may find you are grasping the void.
Marilyn Monroe (1926—62) grew up as an orphan and was raped at the age of nine. As a sales girl, aged sixteen, she first tried to take her life. The poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal, who is likewise a FOUR and psychologically similar, writes in a moving “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe” how the girl dreamed as a child, “that she stood naked in church. . . before a kneeling crowd, their heads bowed down to earth, and she had to walk on tiptoe so as not to crush their heads.” Cardenal prays: “Lord, in this world, contaminated with sin and radioactivity, you don’t con demn a little salesgirl who dreams of being a filmstar. . . . She hungered for love, and we offered Tier tranquilizers. For the sorrow of not being holy they recommended psychoanalysis.. . . Her love affairs were a kiss with eyes dosed — and when you open your eyes, you see it was only a film kiss.”
The gift or fruit of the spirit of redeemed FOURs is harmony or “even-souledness.” At twenty-five FOURs have already lived through all emotional spaces and experiences from agony to ecstasy. They know all the nuances of feeling and understand the human soul better than anyone else. If they muster the discipline to bring their emotional life into balance, they can become impressive personalities. It’s discipline that makes the difference between a second-class “misunderstood genius” and a real artist. Great FOURs concentrate and discipline their emotions; they can distance themselves from them and clarify them in this way. Harmony refers to this deep, balanced, and nuanced emotional condition. A purified FOUR can deal sensitively with real life — and not just with imaginary dramas. Such people must stop bathing in their feelings and draining them to the dregs. They must stop playing with their moods and foisting them on everyone else.
Healthy FOURs are capable of a depth of feeling that most of us have no access to. If they can make this genuine emotionality fruitful, if they can express in concentrated fashion their sense of the beautiful and the really painful, then real works of art will be created. They no longer serve mere self-representation, but express something universally valid. William Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot are examples of poets in whom the great emotions have been so purified and shaped by discipline that they remain valid for all time. Redeemed FOURS are better than most others at understanding and guiding people in psychic distress. They are not intimidated by the difficult, complicated, or dark feelings of others, since they themselves have lived through it all.
Symbols and Examples
One of FOUR’s symbolic animals is the mourning dove, with its cooing and complaining. If there is a style of speech by which FOURs can be recognized, it is the longing complaint or lament. Another animal is the basset hound, the short-legged French hunting dog with its pendant ears and sad, bleary eyes. The eyes of most FOURs reflect an undefined sadness, which they themselves are usually not even aware of. Even when they smile, it’s often “smiling through tears.” The noble black racing horse symbolizes the cool aesthetics of FOURs.
Redeemed FOURs are often compared with the oyster, which is an old symbol of melancholy. Oysters transform dirt into pearls, in the same way a purified FOUR is capable of transforming the negative and experi encès of loss into something beautiful and universally valid. The writer Robert Musil puts it this way: “Writing is like the pearl of a sickness.”
FOURs are often
The color of FOURs is bright violet or mauve. Their shading is not precisely determined, shimmering and extraordinary, melancholic and mystical-conflicting. Violet is the liturgical color of Passiontide, the time of fasting and penance, of transformation through pain and death. In his theory of color Goethe even connected with it the terror of the end of the world: “Violet is both a symbol of the highest rapture of the soul. . . as well as of its darkest and most painful moments.. . . In its oscillations passion comes into contact with intoxication, liberation with decay, death with resurrection, pain with redemption, disease with purification, mystical vision with madness.” Violet is the androgynous color; it mediates between red (masculine) and blue (feminine). The redeemed FOUR embodies synthesis, mediation, and balance.
I now omit a couple more pages on Symbols and skip to…
Conversion and Redemption
The invitation to redemption issued to FOURs is the call to originality. FOURs find their naturalness on the way to union with God. Their striving for authenticity, their love for children and nature are early hints of this goal in life. If they can admit that they live “in God” and God “in them,” their soul will come to the rest and harmony they have long yearned for. [obviously the author is very religious, but the emphasis he places on fours finding god is unique to this type]
Among the life tasks of FOURs is to develop a healthy realism and direct their longing toward reachable goals. FOURs have to work at seeing that their attention remains in the pr and doesn’t continually digress into the past or future. FOURs must find their energy without constantly slipping from one extreme into the other, without being up one minute and down the next. It must not always be euphoria or depression. Their “objective observer” has the job of asking: “Isn’t a little joy and a little sadness enough — at least now and then?”
Unredeemed FOURs love ritual more than reality. They glorify their memories, which are more beautiful than the actual event was. That’s why it’s necessary for them to confront reality. Incarnation is called for, that is, accepting reality, even when it’s ugly and dirty. There the FOURs will truly find themselves. For this reason social commitment and working for peace and justice do FOURs good. In this they have to deal with the dirt of the world, which cannot be aesthetically transfigured.
For redemption FOURs need to confront the real experiences of loss in their lives, they have to admit the rage they feel against the person in question, and they have to stop adulating him or her in the wake of that loss. The “inability to mourn” (Alexander Mitscherlich) hampers real liberation. Paul drives the point home to FOURs when he writes: “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation, and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. ).
FOURs who wish to convert can’t avoid taking a critical look at their snobbishness and their (hidden) elitist consciousness. Instead of com paring themselves with others, they should gratefully become aware of their own inner treasures and share them with others. To practice doing all this, FOURs need a network of people who won’t let themselves be manipulated by them, but remain objective and demand authentic communication. For this reason, in my experience, they are often attracted to ONEs.
Without the FOURs the world would be deprived of the greater part of its art and poetry. When they learn to serve others with their gifts, they will make an important contribution toward “redeeming this world through beauty.”
Daniel Berrigan and Thomas Merton are our saints, the patrons of the redeemed FOURs:
The Jesuit priest Daniel
Berrigan inspired the Christian peace move ment in
Berrigan used his FOUR energy to serve humanity. Nobody else had the idea of articulating protest in this drastic and creative way. Berrigan put his longing and his pleasure in dramatization at the service of peace and justice, instead of simply putting his own creative self on display.
The poet and writer
Thomas Merton (1915—68), who ultimately be came a Trappist monk, was born in
Prades (France) into a family of artists. At the age of six he lost his mother
and began to live a restless, wandering life with his father:
After finishing high
school began his studies in
At the same time he was
overcome by a growing disgust with himself. He went to the
In 1938 Merton was baptized a Catholic; at first his friends thought it was just another one of his crazy ideas. But he was serious about it and wanted to become a Franciscan. When he told the unvarnished truth about his life to the Franciscans, he was turned down, which deeply hurt him. But he didn’t give up. He lived like a monk, gave up smoking, went on a retreat in the strictest monastery in the country, the Trappist abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, where along with all the other vows the strictest silence was observed.
Here he was accepted in 1941 as a postulant. Five years later his biography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was published, and became a sensational bestseller. It reflected the radical contempt for the world of a young (and initially very fanatical) monk and was compared with Augustine’s Confessions. In the next thirty years some sixty more books would follow.
Monastic life became increasingly difficult for Merton. His abbot thought he was taking his subjective feelings too seriously. Finally the order even forbade him to write. Still he became a novice master. His books had drawn hundreds of young men to try out this radical life of work and prayer. They loved and revered him, although he re fused to pass on blind obedience to the rule, but encouraged individual personalities with warmth and love. Ernesto Cardenal was one of his students.
Merton understood monks as people who are searching for God and want to overcome the “false self” by renouncing lies about life and artificial security. “We should let ourselves be led naked and unarmed into the center of that anxiety where we stand alone in our nothingness before God.”
At the same time he was becoming increasingly political he wrote essays against the Church’s doctrine of the “just war” and against American militarism.
After a long struggle
with the abbot he succeeded in getting permission to build himself a plain but
comfortable hermitage in the woods. He began to read, to write, to receive
visitors. On the occasion of a stay in the hospital he had a deeply felt love
affair with a student nurse. But he was still not satisfied; he dreamed of a
still more lonely hermitage in
In 1968 he was allowed
to travel to a religious conference in