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The Importance of Solitude and Meditation
“A wise person is full of questions. A dull person is full of answers.” –Paulo Coelho
“Solitude is not an absence of energy or action, as some believe, but is rather a boon of wild provisions transmitted to us from the soul. Purposeful solitude is both palliative and preventative. It is used to prevent fatigue and weariness.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Consider the double meaning of the word entrance, signifying an opening as well as a state of awe. What is it about a door opening that so piques our curiosity? Is it the child inside us yearning for novelty and entertainment? Is it equal-parts fear and fascination? It’s almost as though we need to be moved. And in order to move we must “open the door” into the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (the awe-inspiring, mesmerizing mystery). With closed doors there is no view, there’s no movement, but for the same old static motions of old. With an entrance, however, there is a chance for reanimation. There is a new “way” to go, a new Tao to juggle. There is –hallelujah– something altogether new to be enchanted by.
Solitude as meditation is the preeminent psychological entrance, the perennial crossroads, the existential gap. It can be an exponentially progressive spiral –a place where all roads begin and all roads end, where all doors open and all doors close. In order to arrive there all one needs is to be awake and alone enough to take in one’s surroundings. Being alone with nature is important. Nature deprivation is overly rampant in the everyday click and hum of modern-day life. Solitude allows us to reconnect with the sacred. We are free to leave behind the hare-brained ferocity of civilization and embrace the tortoise-mind serenity of nature.
Just as we take the world into our bodies, in the form of food, should we not dive deep into the world and let it swallow us, in the form of solitude? In this way, through the two-way mirror of consumption, we become one with the world. We eat the world for sustenance and then we balance the cycle by allowing the world to “eat” us in recompense. This is the epitome of expiation; the pinnacle of cosmic respect.
It is during meditation and solitude where we are free to face our shadow, our bête noire: “black beast.” It is here where we are allowed to wrestle with our doubt, with the arbitrariness of self. The black beast is the hungry ghost inside us all. But it is a ghost that must be fed, an unconscious beast that just needs to be thrown a bone. And it is up to us, and only us, to feed it. In the process of “feeding” it, we discover that our fear dissipates. The ghost becomes Casper-like, friendly and championing us in our cause. It becomes puppy-like, and grows up to be our best friend, standing by our side until the end.
However, feeding the beast is no easy task. For is it not when we are alone, away from the billion blinking machines and distanced from the billion hollering mouths of men, that we feel the awesome weight of time upon our shoulders and the mercurial ache of loneliness in our heart? Indeed, but this is no time for self-pity. This is a time to fill in the blind spot. This is a time to embrace despair, rather than dally with minimalizing it and pigeonholing it into a subordinate emotion. Our despair is paramount, and must be allowed its space, lest we fool ourselves into believing in false hope. Ironically, it is in the act of embracing despair that we discover true hope. Not a childish hope or an immature gamble, but rather a rediscovery of innocence in the face of death. It is a mature gambol, allowing for the cosmos to be as it is: impermanent and thereby meaningful and beautiful.
“Man,” said Blaise Pascal, “is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges as the infinity in which he is engulfed.” But when we embrace our own despair, through solitude and meditation, our third eye opens. From this new coign of vantage we are able to see the nothingness for what it is, just as we are able to feel the infinity in which we are engulfed. We realize that, out there in the “great loneliness,” though we are just a mere grain of sand in an endless desert, we give that desert meaning simply by perceiving it. And suddenly we are not so small.
We are each of us a microcosm within a macrocosm. This is the great lesson of loneliness. We can no more separate the micro from the macro than we can the human from the natural. Both are needed to put the whole into holistic. If we live too long without giving recognition to our despair, to our eternal suffering, we risk turning our lives and our reality into a bureaucracy. It is only in suffering our smallness that we can actualize our greatness and finally accept that our mere presence, albeit miniscule and a mere flash in the pan compared to the greater infinity, is a mighty catalyst for the evolution of the cosmos. Solitude and meditation, especially upon suffering and despair, turns the tables on the universe; where instead of trying to possess our life, we are possessed by it. Like Kierkegaard said, “The pupil of possibility receives infinity.”
In our inert world, where spiritual disorientation and groundlessness prevail, we are crippled by the great crisis of modernity: disenchantment. We try in vain to force-feed enchantment to each other, through television, sports, and movies. Our disenchantment, however, is not regarding a lack of entertainment, but rather a lack of self-permeability, a lack of connection with the cosmos. We are so ecologically impoverished that we experience a deep sense of alienation; not only within society, but within our own skin. Meditating on “the great loneliness,” is an escape from this disenchantment. It is a kind of reprieve from the spiritually estranged clockwork of society, a place where we can lose ourselves so as to be reoriented and grounded with the cosmos.
In a sense, those who cannot really feel themselves lost can never truly be found. Losing oneself in solitude is a means to the end of finding oneself in meditation. Fools do not strive for self-discovery because they are too self-centered and believe that they have all the answers. The wise do not strive for self-discovery because they already have it. It's only the people in between –the majority– that are vulnerable and lost, drowning in the daunting eternity of it all. Meditating in solitude brings forth the gift of feeling lost. It is a gift because only with it can we ascend to a state of being “found,” to becoming, once again, enchanted.
Enchantment develops when we are, all-at-once, trumped by, and triumphant over, the greater cosmos. And then lost and re-found and lost again in the continuing cycle of the human leitmotif. It is exactly this sense of inner-lost-and-found –this balance of self-exploration and self-negation– that keeps us adventurous, curious, and open to the many vicissitudes of life. Indeed, it is this that transforms us into autodidacts armed with open-mindedness, spiritual plasticity, and a hunger for the unknown.
Meditation and solitude are “entrances” into this hunger for the unknown. If allowed infinite transgression hunger for the unknown eventually actualizes itself in the concept of fallibilism, where essentially there are no answers, because even if there were they could always be questioned, ad infinitum. Ascending to a state of being found is the realization that all things are infinitely unfounded, and all the more joyous and enchanting because of that fact.