Solitude: the balm of some and the bane of others. Why is it that most of us shrink from solitude, always seeking an external fulfillment? By nature we are solitary beings. We were born alone, live unique experiences alone, and die alone, yet how many of us can say that we enjoy being alone?
Our language acknowledges two aspects of being alone by providing two words to describe the state of aloneness: solitude and loneliness. One word denotes the joy of being alone: the other, the pain. Since each one of us is essentially alone, we want to know: How can we overcome the pain of loneliness? How can we arrive at the fullness of solitude?
All religions begin with the premise that human beings are incomplete by themselves. The worldly remedy is acquisition of companionship; the religious remedy is attunement to God, to the Self within. Loneliness is not assuaged by companionship, religious masters point out. It is only temporarily masked, forgotten until the mind perceives the impermanence of the relationship it has depended upon.
Solitude is often equated with loneliness, but the two are poles apart. Only in deep solitude, when the mind becomes still, does the state of fullness exist. When solitude decreases, the mind tends to become extroverted, dependent upon its surroundings, living in crowded memories. When we are preoccupied with memories and anxieties, the present experiences lose their vividness. The mind becomes dull. Meaning-full communication is choked, and inwardly we feel agitated, restless, and, in the extreme, lonely.
Loneliness does not arise out of isolation from others, but isolation from ourselves. That which is most precious of all, the Self, lies overlooked.
Solitude, not companionship, is the opposite of loneliness. Living in solitude is living with a fresh, open mind that rejects memories of the pat and anxieties of the future. In solitude, the external supports are abandoned and we are alone, facing ourselves. No distractions entwine the mind or sedate its natural urge to understand the purpose of existence. If understanding seems immanent, we thrive on our solitude, and are unwilling to allow any other thought to invade and deter our quest for experiencing the fullness of our being.
In solitude alone can we confront ourselves and cleanse ourselves. In solitude alone can we experience the deeper joys and purposes within. In solitude alone can we return to society to serve purposefully, without need or desire.
In the following selections, Part One focuses on the need for solitary introspection to purify the mind. Vimala Thakar and J. Krishnamurti write that we must embark upon an adventure into our interior Self, purify ourselves of our crowded thoughts, and learn to live in the fresh, immediate present. Swami Sivananda, a Hindu yogi and philosopher. Expresses the need for and the methods of living in seclusion.
In Part Two, "Living in Solitude," Swami Chinmayananda. A world-renowned Vedantin, but a young seeker at the time of writing this article, describes his retreat into the solitary Himalayas. He vividly portrays the quietening effect that nature has on the mind and observes the lives of several great nature has on the mind and observes the lives of several great renunciates. Swami tapovan, Swami Chinmayananda's spiritual teacher. Describes the inner tranquillity experienced in deep communion with nature. He also explains, for the sake of householders, that the same peaceful solitude of the renunciate can be achieved by inner renunciation born of dispassion. Paul Brunton. The disciple of Ramana Maharshi famed for bringing Vedantic ideas to a large Western readership writes about his rationale for his "idle" retreat to the Himalayas - of the need to experience deep to experience deep quiet and peace in order to awaken one' slatent creativily and contemplativeness.
Part three, "Solitude Amid the Many "discusses the need to carry one's solitude into life situations. Ramana Maharshi insists that solitude is a state of mind and not a physical withdrawal from society. Thomas Merton, the noted Trappist monk, elaborates that true companionship can exist only between individuals who have delved deep in solitude and discovered the hidden resources of their own personalities. The concluding article is by Thomas Kelly, a Quaker monk, who reflects upon the burdens that social obligations place on us, yet holds at fault not the obligations, but our own incapacity to live a divine life centered in Him.
Through these selections we hope to bring home to the readers the importance of solitude in our lives. Purification of the mind from is cumbersome dependencies, communion with the inner personality, and relating to others out of an inner strength can all be achieved when we cherish moments of solitude.
Lonely is not a synonym for alone. The word lonely connotes isolation and dejection, a missed absence of companions when it is applied to persons. The root of alone, however, is in two words: all one. This means the opposite of isolation and dejection. The emphasis is not on the one but on the wholly one. It means complete by oneself. How many of us can actually feel that way? It is not easy to be full in oneself, to respect oneself, and to self-develop to such a degree that a person looks forward to long periods of being alone. For some who enjoy this oneness, they realize that because of their relationship with [God] they are never lonely. They cultivate the chances to be alone, the moments when their unity with the Creator can be both enjoyed and developed.
This implies a special human being. Too often we are frantic for companionship-for the team or the club or the class or the party or the movie or the television. Immersion in such activities will free us from having to face the basic issues of existence. Such trivial busyness will keep us from intimate contact with ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is within each of us, yet how seriously do we try to make contact with it? Not only is there no need to go "out there" in most instances, but rather it is spiritually harmful to look outside of ourselves while ignoring what is by nature within us. The woman or man who can be alone-can be together in the self-is the kind of person we can admire, can hold as a model. The quest for wholeness for individual unity is one of the great journeys a life can make, indeed should make. There is no easy route to being properly alone. But making the trip is learning to find what the meaning of life is.
Back of the Book
Solitude and loneliness - two words that sound somewhat similar to our ears - but do they describe one and the same state of mind?
We are born alone, suffer pain alone, Yet throughout our lives we seek to escape loneliness through acquisition of people and things. in this pursuit, we may feel satisfied at times, but never fully assuaged. The pain of loneliness again returns.
Then there are those who "execute a strategic retreat from the world" (as Paul Brunton puts it) in order to create a solitude otherwise unknown. they seek out a state of aloneness as something positive and fulfilling.
Those who have sought to realize the higher purpose of existence have found a wellspring of joy in solitude. Learning to be alone with ourselves, facing ourselves instead of maneuvering escapes from our subjective reality, can bring a cleansing of the personality, a peace within, an inner strength that can be carried out into the work-a-day world.
"In solitude," says Vimala Thakar, "many things are unlearned and many things are learned.... your time in solitude.... prepares you to be an adventurer into the unknown.
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