Just for today


Dear Artist,

Just for today I’m going to try to make a better painting. We’re not talking Sistine Chapel here, just a piece of joy begun and ended between sunup and sundown.


“Snow Scene, Long Island”
watercolour, 1919
by Owen Merton (1887–1931)
Collection: Thomas Merton Center

Just for today I’ll be happy with it. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Today I’m making up my mind to be pleased.

Just for today I’m trusting in luck, intuition, chance and happenstance. Today I’m going to fit myself and my work around some of these minor miracles.

Just for today I’ll strengthen my mind. When I’m puzzled or have a problem I’ll consult trusted reference. Thought and concentration will be with me, if only just for today.

Just for today I’ll do something I don’t know how to do – for the fun of it; for the exercise. If and when I fail, no one may notice, and I’ll not say anything.

Just for today I’ll not find fault with anything or anyone, and I’ll not try to improve or regulate anyone but myself.


“Bermuda House”
watercolour, 1922
by Owen Merton

Just for today I’ll have a plan. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. While I’m at it, I’ll save myself from two pests; hurry and indecision.

Just for today I’ll put beauty, elegance, charm and character into my work. What I give to the world is also what the world gives to me. I need those things.

Just for today I’ll not think about what anybody else is doing. I’ll be sufficient unto myself, for while I may not be great, I am certainly great enough for today.

Just for today I’ll take some real time for a quiet time – a half-hour or so by myself where I can sit back and get a better idea of the big picture.

And looking at the big picture, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)


“Harbour, Bermuda”
watercolour, 1922
by Owen Merton

Best regards,


PS: “Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity.” (Thomas Merton)

Esoterica: Yesterday a crumpled and worn “Just for today” came by mail – the gift of an alcoholic friend. It prompted me to write my own version of the A A tract. It’s estimated that 500 million copies of variations of the original have been circulated – which makes it one of the most valued texts of all time. I’ve always found that I can live with anything if there’s a time frame. What is it that you really want, just for today?

This letter was originally published as “Just for today” on August 19, 2003.

Artist Owen Merton, a New Zealander, along with his American artist wife, Ruth Jenkins, had 2 sons including Thomas Merton, monk and writer. Thomas wrote of his father, Owen, in his famous spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. He also wrote, Thoughts in Solitude and No Man is an Island. A foremost spiritual thinker of the 20th century, his books are still widely read.

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“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.” (Thomas Merton)



  1. My Leo horoscope for February 23, 2016 from Astrocenter.com

    You are often the center of attention, the life of the party. (I am?) It’s not that you consciously set out to be this way, J. BRUCE; (Right!) rather, this is just the nature of your personality. (Oh OK) Today, however, you may be a bit fed up with all the attention. (Not me!) People look to you to liven up the place, and right now you just don’t have the energy or the inclination to do so. (Oh well) This is a day for quiet contemplation. Avoid crowds or social settings, and spend some much-needed time on your own.

    So today I’m going to stay home and make art. Unfortunately- I’ve never made a piece of art in one day- but I can accept that. It’s the final week of my 9th One Man Show at St. Mark’s Coffeehouse in Denver CO (2019 E. 17th Ave) and I’m hosting a closing reception Friday from 5 to 9 pm- but just for today I’m going to avoid all of you! And fortunately- I made a sale over the weekend completely unrelated to this exhibit- so I can afford to live for a couple more months.

  2. steve chmilnitzky on

    Today I’ll just be, I’ll be thankful with gratitude for my existence…it doesn’t matter there’s no should do nor wishes only is and that’s enough.

    • And l needed that “just for today” as well. I will tackle that beautiful bouquet of impossible to paint flowers and make them glow with a confidence that is bound to emerge “just for today ” .
      Thank you for the inspiration that you have always delivered at just the right moment and that your daughter continues. We are so blessed !

  3. Thank you so much for this advice. As an artist, who suddenly finds herself no longer a full time caregiver for a loved one, each new day is daunting and this letter provides me with a perfect template and the strength to go forward. Thank you!

  4. Ok, must print and read to myself, preferably out loud if not each day, especially on painting days. Such a lovely piece to remind us to cherish our lives.

  5. I needed that , i am working on a contract painting , and I’m getting cataracts , and today it seems blurry , hope I can finish it ,I also contracted to do a pastel workshop this saturday , so I needed a lift. Thanks .

    • In AA, we also say Easy Does It which sort of means what Robert was saying. We set goals, we try to do our best each day but if we don’t quite measure up, don’t beat yourself up; try again tomorrow. The Serenity Prayer is the best teacher for painting and for living life. I’ve been sober for 61 1/2 years and if I haven’t drank over my many failed watercolor paintings, I think I’ll make it. The next one is going to be a masterpiece! Bob Frank

      • We’re all in this life together, some with harder mountains to climb but we never know when our mountain will show up. Just for today (& all the tomorrows we are blessed to have) do our best. Not someone else’s best, our best for today.
        If tomorrow comes, do the same. We can only keep trying to do that. Blessings and effort to make it one more day.

  6. This hit the spot. Like Bruce Wilcox, I don’t seem to be able to make a painting in one sitting, but the spirit of the letter still rang true as I attempted a dog portrait in oil for the first time. Mind you, I have only drawn a dog one other time. It’s not a subject I have pursued until now. This was a special dog friend that passed of cancer about a year and a half ago, and I have wanted to bless that dog’s owner with a small gift in token of our friendship and what her dog meant to me. Now just felt like the time to try. He was an animal that always made me feel as a welcome part of the pack. So for today the essence of this letter touched me and reminds me that, perhaps, I can give a little elegance and grace…

  7. This hit the spot this morning. I am working on a difficult painting and the thoughts here were good–gave me some peace of mind and resolve.

  8. arlenebisesi@gmail.com on

    I am reading The seven Story Mountain so I had to smile seeing Thomas Merton”s fathers paintings
    as he is speaking of them in this book. There are no accidents.

  9. There is something bothersome to me when I hear (or as here, read) of someone “Working on a difficult painting.”

    How, I wonder, can a painting be “difficult”? As a teacher and a painter, I must be in some fortunate minority that finds joy in the doing of every painting I have ever done in over fifty years at the craft. Paintings can be fiesty …..funny…nonsensensicle…but never difficult.

    If it is not fun…i do something else.

  10. What an inspirational post! It’s a prayer I will frame and cherish forever! Thank You Robert and Sara for sharing this with me. I love Thomas Merton’s writings; am reading “Seeds” and “Echoing silence”. He is my spiritual guide.
    So, what is it that I really want, just for today? I want to hug you for posting this beautiful prayer, and to see colors as values. Namaste. :-)

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