Going It Alone

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My house rests silent at dusk. Dresses crowd one another in her closet, the scent of perfume still lingering on them months after her departure. In the kitchen, a cold stove. These all gang up against me as afternoons end. It’s called loneliness.

We all fear loneliness, whether caused by the rupture of a relationship, a divorce, a death. Still others admit to loneliness even while sharing a household.

But there is a way out of this unhappiness, I’m finding. By journeying inward.

Blaise Pascal, in his Pensees, put his finger on it:

Our unhappiness arises from one thing only, that we cannot be comfortably alone in our room.

One of the Himalayan masters defines the lonely person as one dependent on externals—persons or things—without awareness of the reality within. "Seek within," he urges, "to become aware that you are complete in yourself. God gave you a perfect soul. You don't need externals. No matter what happens in any situation, you need never be lonely."

This search to see our true self—not the two-dimensional self we see through the eyes of other people—can be done only in solitude:

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Solitude engenders an interior conversation that leads to self-discovery, to creativity, to authenticity.

Every religious tradition—and most philosophical schools—advise us to draw within and separate ourselves from the world in order to achieve inner peace and insight.

Solitude is something we choose, and we create it whenever or wherever we like.

We can be alone, but we are not in solitude if we are reading, studying or absorbed in an iPhone. On the other hand, we can be in a crowd and wrap ourselves in solitude.

In other words, by choosing solitude we don’t simply withdraw from society. We transcend it.

Dr. Melissa Lane of Princeton University:

Solitude isn’t simply being alone. It’s an active achievement, a distinctive condition of experience in which one can still the voices of society in the mind. And that allows a form of authentic experience.

We obviously cannot be in solitude all the time. We have to balance solitude and society.

Thoreau, for example, bragged about solitude as his “companion” but left Walden each week to have dinner with his mother. Socrates still holds the solitude record, I think. They say he once stood for 24 hours—thinking.

Montaigne suggested that our mind needs a “back shop” where we go for solitude. These periods of solitude prepare us for healthy participation in society. He spent hours in his library “conversing” with the great minds of the past through books. Then he would spend time in solitude, holding an interior conversation with himself.

Perhaps Montaigne got the idea from Jesus, who advised his followers: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”

That inner room is in our hearts, where Jesus promised we would find God. We might also find ourselves there.

(Corner of Solitude by Adityo Yudhistriatmojo)


Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Guy-Boat-Peter-Yaremko/dp/0990905012/

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

And my weekly reflection on each Sunday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be found at: http://www.peterwyaremko.com/mercy


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