These two words seem taboo in our Western culture. How dare you admit you’re lonely! And solitude? ... best ya’ll suffer alone…. it’s (way) different than just being alone.
* NOTE: It’s taken me over two months to put this blog up, because it’s personal. The words ‘solitude and loneliness’ tend to have negative connotations of isolation and being an outcast or just plain depressed and weird. There‘s neither empathy nor reverence for people who are either. How sad. No wonder so many people ‘lead quiet lives of desperation’ .
So, let’s look at these two phenoms in a more upbeat way:
——————————————- “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~ Janet Fitch
The below is a great quote…reminds me of Robin Williams’ “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”
Some consider Henry Thoreau to be the epitome of Western solitude. He was anything but solitary: he was a fully engaged & passionate activist his entire life. Yet our romantic stereotype of ‘Walden’ with him living a luxurious life of solitude in a cabin in the woods next to a pond is in-escapable. I was drawn to the deep forest by this view. A wonderful new book does a great job of updating this view of Thoreau with a twist on our present political dilemnas… what would Henry do? worth a read: NYTimes Book Review Link here .
my experience at WinSol
For the past 12 years I’ve gone into purposeful exile from the artificial stresses of the ‘dreadmill’ (modern slavery in urban jungles), to solitude and isolation at WinSol. From running three Aptek offices, having a dozen+ employees, a handful of big clients, and jetting around the world – it all came crashing down in a couple years that included: a Northrup Grumman (last big client) meeting in El Segundo, the high Himalayas, and finally the fire that destroyed WinSol2. I moved into WinSol3 full-time around 2006 and avoided the crash of 2008. WinSol is surrounded on three sides by NFS (National Forest) and one side leads to unlimited trails and abandoned logging roads through deep forests. Walking these endless trails and meditating for years changed me.
Fast forward ten years: In the last five years I’ve had many wonderful helpers and friends spend time at WinSol. I’ve learned how to avoid letting my peers’ & society’s judgment, enticements, and social pressures affect my chosen lifestyle. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve learned so much in a decade of solitary deep forest walks and suffering through bouts of cabin fever. I’ve found new appreciation and purpose in living alone at WinSol. The continual peer pressure from society and my ego to ‘rejoin the treadmill’ and many friends’ view that WinSol is too far out there, have contributed to this difficulty. I am more steadfast now that my initial sojourn to WinSol (~20 years ago) was well-founded. But lately I’ve evolved to seek a more mainstream balance and to re-enter the dreadmill again – to dance with the devil – albeit with a more centered ‘self’. Turn it around to being self-centered. It’s a fine line between being self-centered and being selfish/narcissistic – but it’s worth struggling for the balance.
My meditations and a local Buddhist sangha has helped me. There’s a wonderful book by Sarvananda: ‘Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View’:
In his new book,Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View, Sarvananda explores the themes of solitude and loneliness and how a Buddhist might deal with these emotions. He suggests that, despite the statistics, we still ‘very skillfully, and often unconsciously, organize our lives in such a way as to avoid loneliness.’ Although increasing numbers of us live alone, we are also continuously coming up with new strategies to distract ourselves from our solitude.
Human societies throughout history and all over the world have organized Themselves around living with others. Yet in the last 15 years, there has been an 80% global increase in people living alone. We’re wealthier than our ancestors and the cultures we live in value individualism and independence – we have the freedom to house ourselves in smaller family units or without a family at all. 34% of UK households now have just one person living in them. So is the modern individual more familiar with solitude than ever before?
Yet Sarvananda suggests that facing up to our essential aloneness is ‘where the spiritual life begins.’ ‘Buddhism challenges us to train ourselves to be more and more at ease in our own company,’ he writes, ‘to try and be with ourselves without distraction.’ This means confronting our habitual and repetitive responses to solitude which rely on the approval and reassurance of others. ‘Distrusting our capacity to alone, we too quickly look to others to save us, often from ourselves,’ Sarvananda argues. ‘We become addicted to other people.’
People say they need time alone. But what do they do? They end up being physically solitaire, yet stay continually connected through emails, facebook and countless web sites. Being alone at a cafe or driving alone is still avoiding the richness of truly being alone.
Getting rid of all distractions of post-modern society’s latent addictions is not easy. Take a solitary long meditative walk in a deep forest or isolated beach and you’ll come to slowly recognize and reclaim the beauty that is within you – you alone. You might even start finding some peace, some centered-ness, some self-love and kindness to yourself. It’s always there waiting for you to be present without distraction. Enjoy – it just is.
Repeat after me: I love me, I love me….
I take solace in the concept that we are slowly re-invigorating what solitude really means in our modern, technological, world wide web, social media based life.
These four lines from Jack Kornfield are my daily affirmations:
May I be filled with loving kindness
May I be safe from inner & outer dangers
May I be well in body and mind
May I be at ease and happy