If I could I would spend the better part of my time in solitude. Preferably it would be surrounded by the beauty of nature.
The splendour of the trees and flow of the sparkling rivers drown out the noisy sounds of the busy city streets. For what is nature itself but a grand cathedral.
It is in solitude where one can rest in a state of contemplation, and be at peace with oneself.
Blinded by the trivialities of day to day life, we forget to admire the beauty that is close to home – that which is right in front of us.
In a culture that tends to place a great emphasis on extroversion, perhaps we have long forgotten the wisdom bestowed to us by the great religious and spiritual leaders. From the likes of Moses to Jesus and the Buddha, all these spiritual teachers sought to temporarily detach themselves from society in pursuit of the self-transcendence available to us through introspection.
For how can one truly know thyself, and be free from the pressures and demands of modern society without an embrace of stillness.
I can continue to ramble on about the importance of cultivating solitude, but it would ultimately pale in comparison to the exquisite words of the great writers and poets.
So here are three of my favourite quotes and reflections, each exploring a different aspect of the topic.
Rainer Maria Rilke
But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths
The esteemed poet Rilke reflects on the necessity of solitude for personal and spiritual growth. Rilke acknowledges that time alone will come with discomfort as your mind unravels the fears and emotions hidden in the unconscious. However, only through stillness can one learn to accept and surrender these parts of themselves in order to transcend them.
We can escape from the demands of conformity placed on us by society, and relish in the peace and bliss that comes with cultivating our inner selves.
True action, good and radiant action, my friends, does not spring from activity, from busy bustling, it does not spring from industrious hammering. It grows in the solitude of the mountains, it grows on the summits where silence and danger dwell. It grows out of the suffering which you have not yet learned to suffer
Many of us spend our day to day lives stuck in the trance of busyness. We feel like we always ought to be doing something to feel important, to validate our self worth.
How little do we often spend time though on reflecting on the value and consequences of this ‘busyness’?
What can we genuinely achieve without modest self-reflection?
Hesse comments that on the other side of suffering that our aloneness may bring, comes the bliss of solitude, peace and beauty.
It is only when an individual voluntarily chooses and embraces seclusion can one reap its benefits. That is, one who spends time alone must be able to regulate their emotions and rejoin or re-enter social groups at their own will.
Once these preconditions are met, and one is able to ‘let go’ and accept their condition of solitude, it can provide us with the rejuvenation and insight we need.
It is widely believed that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness. Yet the lives of creative individuals often seem to run counter to this assumption. For example, many of the world’s greatest thinkers have not reared families or formed close personal ties. This is true of Descartes, Newton, Locke, Pascale, Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein
Contrary to popular belief, it is not being in the physical presence of others that can subdue feelings of isolation. What matters is the connection or bond one has to others, themselves or their natural surroundings.
We can feel emotions of bitter loneliness while sitting in a packed room while embracing the benefits of solitude when we are alone with ourselves.
This is not to disregard the importance of intimate interpersonal relationships, rather it is to note that there are different alternatives and ways of life available to us. There is no one template one must follow to attain contentment in life.
However, with all the anxieties we face in the modern world, it is good to still know we can always retreat into stillness – into solitude.
The sources I pulled from were mainly from the excellent blogs Brain Pickings and Academy of Ideas which are great resources for philosophy and literature.
I aspire to be an independent thinker. One who adheres to a clear set of authentic principles, and can hold their own against the tyranny of the majority.
I long to be free from ideology and dogma, free from the imaginary boundaries and limitations of this group or that group in the time of the culture wars.
Why should I pursue endeavours purely to appease others or act in a way contradictory to my nature?
A term I feel particularly drawn to during this time of chaos is personal sovereignty. As Jordan Hall describes it,
Sovereignty is the capacity to take responsibility. It is the ability to be present to the world and to respond to the world — rather than to be overwhelmed or merely reactive. Sovereignty is to be a conscious agent.
To me, being a sovereign individual entails being in the driver’s seat – being in control.
It means having the awareness and insight to be able to cut through the noise and find the truth in a world that is increasingly politicized and divisive.
That is not to say, I must reject conformity or social norms at all costs. Rather it is to use discernment and reason to act on the most logical course of action.
This has become increasingly difficult in a time where corporations, the media and politicians are constantly fighting for your attention, dollars and votes.
Who to believe?
Who to trust?
Where can truth be found?
My hope is that the practice of mindfulness and Stoicism will allow me to see things more clearly, as they are – from an objective standpoint. To not be thrown around emotionally by the headlines, but have greater control and autonomy over my reactions to external events.
It is difficult to flow against the grain, to risk being wrongly accused and be viewed as an outcast. However, this is what a commitment to Truth requires. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us,