Aspen: A Monk’s Musings

Father Thomas Keating reflects upon the liberating essence of gratitude.
Walking the grounds of St. Benedict’s Monastery welcomes reflection.

By Hilary Stunda

There’s a different rhythm and pace in Aspen. Just being surrounded by mountains and hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, gazing upon snow-capped peaks and quietly observing nature, brings an awareness of something larger than yourself. Father Thomas Keating, the 94-year-old Benedictine monk and one of the founders of Centering Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer, has lived at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass for 36 years. He reminds us that we’re all one on this journey called life, and that gratitude is everywhere.

You once said that your definition of sin was someone who refused to grow, to change.

FATHER THOMAS KEATING: Yes. And gratitude is one of the fundamental dispositions of acceptance of the transforming process. Wanting to change means being authentic, present. Yes, to be there all the time, or at least more and more of the time. That’s what the process is about. It can’t be done all at once. There are very rare exceptions.

What advice do you have for those who feel overwhelmed or embittered by life’s challenges?

You can’t change people just by talking to them. First of all, they might not want to change. Some people like feeling angry about the way they have been treated—a certain ugly compensation. But if they can look for a chance to be quiet, and see if they can contact some of the good things they have received in their lives and just be. Being present and trying to share what we have with others and meet their needs so they can concentrate more on their becoming. Because being is becoming. It’s not static. It’s always changing, dynamic, growing.

Aspen gives us so much natural beauty. It’s a gift.

Yes, walking in nature and receiving the conscious sensation, the silence, the interesting sounds of the birds and animals, the vistas. Letting go of our attachments to our security blankets—material, or spiritual or religious, even—is a way of opening ourselves to the divine reality from which we come. Even if you have a lot of suffering, there are so many experiences wonderful and expressible. Man has to begin with a radical acceptance of gratitude for being here and who we are It’s the foundation for a relationship of truth.