Sunday, October 31, 2010


Since returning from my coast-to-coast walk across England in June, people have been asking me how it feels to get back to "reality."  Reality?  Here in the United States as we complete our first decade of the century?  Here in the mecca of crass materialism where ignorance is increasingly valued more than intelligence?  Here, where mendacity is the coin of the realm in both political and financial circles? Here, where a major senatorial candidate believes that scientists have cloned mice with fully functioning human brains; where another major senatorial candidate has been indicted on obscenity charges; and where still another major senatorial candidate has suggested that the United States deal with immigration from Mexico in the same way that East Germany dealt with the West Germany during the Soviet era (i.e., a Berlin Wall with electric fences, land mines, and armed guards instructed to shoot trespassers)?

I don't think so.  Call me old-fashioned, but this doesn't look like reality to me. Frankly, I found much more reality walking across England through places that have remained much the same for the past five hundred years, if not the past fifteen hundred years.  If I am to find reality in my own country, it will have to be in places of solitude, places of stillness where the heart can find solace and renew itself.  Oh how we need to get far from the madding crowd.  Then, perhaps, we can rediscover not only ourselves, but who we were before the advent of televisions, talking heads, cell phones, and, yes, computers.

Enough of my rant.  Just read what others have said about the rewards of solitude — how vital it is to sanity, how indispensable it is to creativity, how necessary it is to the growth of wisdom.  I begin with a quote from Thoughts on Solitude, a book by one of my spiritual heroes, Thomas Merton.  If something in this quote resonates with you, please check out Robert's recent posting, "The Friendly Communion of Silence", which appears on The Solitary Walker's other blog, "Turnstone."  That posting has more extensive quotes from Thoughts in Solitude.

I also want to recommend Ruth's excellent posting of today, "Horrors Transcended,"  which appears on her blog, "Synch-ro-ni-zing."  Included in this post are examples of three inspirational people who faced and overcame great social challenges during their lifetimes.

Vocation to Solitude — To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light.  To pray and work in the morning and to labor and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and stars.  This is a true and special vocation.
Thomas Merton
Thoughts in Solitude


When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself.  When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world.

Eckhart Tolle

I said to my soul, be still, and wait . . . the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting . . . the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing.

T.S. Eliot 

Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.

Paul Tillich

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.

Mary Sarton

In solitude, where we are least alone.

Lord Byron

Loneliness can be conquered only by those who can bear solitude.

Paul Tillich

What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is being suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it — like a secret vice.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.


Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves, we find in ourselves all our brothers in solitude.

Miguel de Unamuno

Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.

Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, October 23, 2010


All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.
Thomas Wolfe

Nothing stirs the soul like autumn.  We awake from the nepenthean sleep of summer and witness something even more beautiful than we imagined —  more beautiful perhaps because we are forced the recognize the transient nature of what we love.  It is a time for reckoning,  a time to discard the frivolous and return to our essence, a time to prepare for the coming winter.  That is why, as Thomas Wolfe observed, all things point to home in late October.  Home is the place where our hearts find solace, the place where our authentic lives are rooted, the place where we will wait like the ancients for the reassurance of another spring.

Some of our finest poets have meditated on the implications of autumn for the human spirit.  What they have to say is much of what I feel during these closing days of October. What you take from these poems will depend upon where you are at this point in your own personal journey.  Enjoy.

                                    A certain day became a presence to me;
                                    there it was, confronting me -- a sky, air, light:
                                    a being.  And before it started to descend
                                    from the height of noon, it leaned over
                                    and struck my shoulder as if with
                                    the flat of a sword, granting me
                                    honor and a task.  The day's blow
                                    rang out, metallic -- or it was I, a bell awakened,
                                    and what I heard was my whole self 
                                    saying and singing what it knew: I can.

Denise Levertov
"Variation on a Theme by Rilke"

                                     Withered vines, gnarled trees, twilight crows,
                                     river flowing beneath the little bridge,
                                     past someone's home.
                                     The wind blows from the west
                                     where the sun sets, it blows
                                     across the ancient road,
                                     across the bony horse,
                                     across the despairing man
                                     who stands at heaven's edge.

Ma Chih-Yuan
"Meditation in Autumn"

                                     Nature's first green is gold,
                                     Her hardest hue to hold.
                                     Her early leaf's a flower;
                                     But only so an hour.
                                     Then leaf subsides to leaf.
                                     So Eden sank to grief,
                                     So dawn goes down to day.
                                     Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost
"Nothing Gold Can Stay"

                                  Lord, it is time.  The summer was so great,
                                  Impose upon the sundials now your shadows
                                  and round the meadows let the winds rotate.
                                  Command the last fruits to incarnadine;
                                  vouchsafe, to urge them on into completeness,
                                  yet two more south-like days; and that last
                                  inveigle it into the heavy vine.

                                  He'll not build now, who has no house awaiting.
                                  Who's now alone, for long will so remain:
                                  sit late, read, write long letters, and again
                                  return to restless perambulating
                                  the avenues of parks when leaves downrain.

"Autumn Day"

                                   The leaves are falling, falling as from far,
                                    as though above were withering farthest gardens;
                                    they fall with a denying attitude.

                                    And by night, down into solitude,
                                    the heavy earth falls far from every star.

                                    We are all falling.  This hand's falling too —
                                    and have this falling-sickness none withstands.

                                    And yet there's One whose gently-holding hands
                                    this universal falling can't fall through.

Peace to Everyone!