Since Adam and Eve left Eden, humanity has endured through long millennia of hardships and sufferings, especially death. But the hearts of their children and great-grandchildren have never given up the hope that, someday, they could return to the place of happiness that once had been their inheritance. It is a legitimate and dignified dream. In fact, since the day Adam and Eve left, paradise has remained on earth, waiting for every single human child to return.
Mertons paradise, in the last analysis, is on earth, but it is not a spacious place. It is rather an attitude of heart, a state of consciousness, in a spiritual journey. The recovery of paradise occurs when the ego in us becomes empty like a desert. The more the noisy ego diminishes, the more the paradise appears in all its beauty. In fact, this paradise is the face of God, not just an imaginary picture but the true God Himself. The more the face of our ego fades out, the more the face of God shines in his glory, might, and goodness. The desert path is more a journey within our consciousness than through geographical space and time. That is why it belongs to all people and is not just reserved for desert hermits.
According to Thomas Merton, you need not be a bishop, a priest, a monk, a nun, a religious person, or a hermit to enter the spiritual journey. You may be a lay person, a normal churchgoer very busy with your daily duties, but you certainly could be a real paradise man.