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


  1. Such arresting images and evocative words, George. I especially liked Rilke on protecting one another's solitude as the loftiest mark of a special bond between two people.

  2. Exquisite photographic presentation to illustrate an inspiring essay on the value of solitude, George.

    Perhaps the need for 'distraction', 'noise' and 'entertainment' will eventually be seen as a big part of the downfall of Western civilization. If we cannot bear to be alone, we are always on the run to 'find' something - on the run from 'no thing'. Yet that is precisely where we meet ourselves, where we meet the divine, where ideas that serve life are born.

    It is a wonderful thing to have a partner who appreciates solitude and as Rilke says, protects their partner's needs in that regard too.

    Visits here are always rewarding George. Thank you.

  3. To Lorenzo,

    Thanks, my friend. I like Rilke's comment as well. I'm quite confident that my own marriage would be a failure if my wife and I did not protect one another's solitude.

  4. To Bonnie,

    Thanks, as always, for your kind comments. As you can see from my opening statement, I am feeling increasingly disoriented in my country. It's quite difficult for me to believe that we are on the verge of backsliding into the tragic errors of the past, and yet that is what appears to be happening. In a world of chaos without end, there seems to be no other refuge than solitude. Tragically, it is the lack of solitude that has led to many of our problems. Having had so little solitude, people seem to have lost their ability to think critically.

  5. I go to the meadow to release everything I can't carry alone. Sometimes it's sorrow. Sometimes it's joy. Sometimes it's just chaos.

    As I said in my post (thank you for the mention), when we allow ourselves to be guided, shaped and driven by others who want to tell us what to think, we become misshapen caricatures of ourselves.

    Your photographs of the bluebird(s) are what I wish I could capture out in that meadow. I'm glad that at least one of us can do it. :) The image of the woman hiding her face reminds me of the film I just watched tonight, which has saturated me with beauty tonight: Baraka. I wonder if you have seen this narrative-less visual magnificence by Ron Fricke. Talk about silence, and solitude (and also the lack of both).

    I think you know that sometimes when I need silence, I come here and just walk around.

  6. To Ruth,

    Thanks, my friend, for the lovely comments, and thanks especially for your openness and honesty about your own journey.

    The image of the woman hiding her face from the sun was taken in Israel a couple of years ago. It seemed to illustrate Unamuno's point about solitude helping us to find ourselves in others.

    I haven't seen the film "Baraka," but I assume that I can find it on Netflix. Thanks for the recommendation. Have a nice week!

  7. George, thank you! Don't let the crazies on the news get you down!

    Your pictures were absolutely breathtaking and calming too. I could almost feel my self slowing and relaxing looking at those beautiful little jewels God gives us for company.

    I did love the comment by Anne Morrow Lindbergh! Although I have to wonder, when stores and companies like REI, and EMS keep growing. On a hike this weekend in the Pine Barrens, we meet an entire group taking a camping/outdoors class from one of these seems there is a quiet movement afoot, to reclaim that quiet ... that solitude, that connection. It's there.. growing... quietly.

    Pax, Karin

  8. Nice post, George! Great photos!

    I particularly like the first Paul Tillich quote. Solitude is precious to me.

    But when I've had enough solitude I was REAL--not artificial--social engagement.

    One particularly effective way I've found to engage in reality in the US today is to disengage from corporate media (if not completely remove it from my life) and engage in my actual community, by getting to know and to working more with my neighbors and fellow town folk.

  9. To Karin,

    Thanks, Karin, for your lovely and supportive comments. I'm o.k. at this point. I just had to rant a bit about the nuttiness of American life these days.

    I'm glad you liked the photos, and I am encouraged that you are finding like-minded people who are seeking to reclaim solitude and stillness. Hope reigns eternally.

  10. To Dan,

    Thanks, Dan. I, too, have tried to disengage from the corporate media, and I am happy to say that it has improved the quality of my life. What I have not done, however, is to reengage with people in my local community. Your comments may lead me in that direction. Thanks again for your input.

  11. As an ouside observer of your country and a long time admirer of it's poets, architects, musicians and writers the largest problem taking you all to ruin seems to be greed.

  12. Your wonderful pictures need more praise than I have words,
    but not one of the quotes needs anything further said; each one is a gem as it stands.

    As for your feelings on returning to 'reality' from an ancient land, I do have a quibble:

    You have seen the wonders of the natural landscape of this small island, where you can walk from coast to coast, and because you chose solitude you saw none of the ugliness that is present here as much as in your own country. I would say, you chose not to see it.

    In fact, that ugliness is 'reality' here as it is in the States. Your rant is timely and justified - I would simply argue that those of us who wish to turn our backs on the ugliness are the ones outside 'reality'.

  13. Yes, it's a difficult time for the US what with the gradual shifting of power and influence away from the West to China and the Far East, the foreign policy mistakes over Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, the banking and home loans crisis, and the deficit. Obama is probably doing what he can - but he has such a huge mountain to climb, 2 years is not long enough. The danger is that America will retreat into its shell, become isolationist, find scapegoats. I was quoting Arthur Miller on my blog the other day. Certainly the lessons and significance of 'The Crucible' are still most relevant today...

    Silence and solitude, and the reflection they bring, are essential, I find, to restore sanity and balance in one's life. This doesn't necessarily mean long treks, or months in the wilderness - sometimes just taking a short space of meditative, non-doing time each day is enough. Though I do like my long walks...

  14. To Von,

    Thanks so much for your comments. You are right, of course. The explosion of greed is a great threat to this country. Hubris and declining educational standards are also making a contribution to our decline.

    Thanks for stopping by. I have taken a quick peek at your three blogs and they look quite interesting. Rest assured that I will be checking them out in more detail. Thanks again. I hope you make a return visit.

  15. Ahh George.. good to read this and know that others understand this too.

  16. To Friko,

    Thanks for your kind and generous comments. I can't quibble with with your quibble. Unfortunately, there are pervasive signs of decline throughout western culture and few countries, if any, are exempt. The only solution for those of us who lament the decline is to seek refuge in the natural world and other places of solitude.

  17. To Robert,

    Thanks for the comments, Robert. Your analysis of the American dilemma is right on point. I would simply add that greed, hubris, and declining educational standards are also playing significant roles in our problems. The United States needs to get beyond its superiority complex and learn how the fit comfortably and productively in the family of nations.

    As an avid supporter of Obama, I believe that the President is doing everything within his power to lead the country into a sustainable future. Unfortunately, however, we live in an era when the game goes to the highest bidder, the most strident voice, and the dumbest message. When I despair, I simply try to remember that, from time to time, the United States does remarkable and unexpected things, like elect the first African American head of state in the history of western democracies.

    You're right about the ease with which we can find solitude and reflection in "short spaces" when we choose to do so. While the adventurous heart is always attracted to the grand places, a short walk through a field or a patch of woods is usually sufficient to restore one's sanity and sense of balance.

  18. To Gwen,

    Thanks, Gwen. It soothes my soul to know that there are others who share my concerns. It is also reassuring to know that there are people like you who are devoting their lives to making the world a more beautiful place to live in.

  19. Hi-
    I was silenced in beauty and peace by your beautiful images and words, quotes and reflections. It was s good silence, one in which I could hear and see and feel deeply. "thank you" for creating such a space in time.
    Love to you

  20. To Gail,

    Thanks for your lovely and generous comments. If I have made a contribution to "good silence," I am more than happy to oblige.

  21. Thanks for the lovely quotes and photos on solitude, something I hold very dear. Unfortunately, I am too much in agreement with most of your mini-rant, and wish I could see something that more hopeful for the near future than I do. I did think Obama was taking a risk when he campaigned by selling "hope" to the American people. It seemed pleasant and refreshing to me, but insubtantial, a bubble that would have to burst when touched by the acid of the harsh reality he was walking into. If I were American, not that I can say I've ever desired to be, I would have voted for Nader, because he transcended party politics and because he is a realist but also determined and resilient . .. but - let's just suspend reality for a moment and pretend he could ever have been elected - he still would have steamrollered by the mess he inherited.

    As for how wonderful some think it is that an african american became president . . . maybe I'd have to be American to understand that as well. A friend of mine who went to school there and lived there for 12 years, seems to think that is a very big deal, but my sister-in-law is african american (she only immigrated to Canada a year ago) and also fails to see the importance, except on a symbolic level, which I suppose in itself IS important.. . . but I've always believed in the best person for the job, for any job, regardless of superficialities like skin colour. Another friend of mine was a big Hilary fan simply "because she's a woman." I couldn't help but respond to that with, "Don't you remember Margaret Thatcher?"

  22. To Fireweed,

    Thanks for the comments, Fireweed. It means something to me that an African American can now be elected to the highest office in this country. I grew up in Mississippi during the forties and fifties, when African Americans were essentially denied basic civil rights, including voting rights. I did not vote for Obama, however, because he is African American; I voted for him because I believed then, as I believe now, that he is the most qualified and compassionate leader we have in the country.

  23. Yikes, it wasn't my intention to imply that you would have voted for a candidate on the basis of race alone, but upon re-reading my comment, I can see that's exactly what I did. I think what I was trying to get at is that as an outsider, it isn't really possible for me to fully understand the depth of importance regarding race issues in the U.S. As a friend of mine from Georgia once made abundantly clear to me in an enlightening conversation a few years ago - knowing the history is one thing, but living with the legacy of it is quite another.

  24. To Fireweed,

    No offense taken, Fireweed. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    Living through dark periods of history leaves an indelible print on one's life. I expect that the cruel and heartless racism I witnessed in my youth will always shape my views of the world.

  25. George, I simply can't get over the photos. They are just so vivid .
    Each one is a gift. Thank you.

    and the quotes are perfect, I love May Sarton so appreciate seeing her words here.

    I am sometimes overly fond of solitude... I struggle a bit with finding a balance of community and what I am afraid can become not just a way to see , but a preference for not.

    again, I'm so grateful to have this space to come to now.

  26. To Deb,

    Thanks for your generous and lovely comments, Deb. Glad to find someone else who loves Mary Sarton. I find her seldom mentioned elsewhere. Community is a great idea theoretically, but I must confess that, for better of worse, I am increasingly drawn to solitude, a solitude that is blessed with a few like-minded friends.

  27. Well, it is the day after the election and I am so glad I came here because BOY do I need some hope and solace- at least some of the more extremists lost yesterday though a few won too- You have the most wonderful quotes here and your images are beautiful-- thank you for the reminder that we may not be able to control many things but we can still control our inner 'light'.

  28. To Donna,

    Thanks, Donna, for the lovely comments. Without personal solitude and creativity, I'm not sure I could manage the insanity of American political life. It's great to have this election behind us. Perhaps we can have a little peace before the next one begins.

  29. Dear George,
    I love how you are able to utilize the bokay (sp?) that is rich in color but that allows such crisp detail of the subject. It offers an intimacy that is unmatched.

    As one desirous of solitude, I hold a small hope that someday I may happily find myself in a situation in which I can explore what solitude has to offer.

    I suspect, by the fact that you are capable of writing posts and taking photographs that convey peace and solitude and wisdom, that in spite of the election and general cultural idiocy that pervades "reality" you find some place of peace in the day to day. I'm glad.

  30. To Neighbor,

    Thanks for the lovely comments, Neighbor. I'm delighted that you recognize the contribution that bokeh can play in a photograph. Similarly, the negative spaces in painting are very important to the composition.

    Solitude of often more fleeting than I would like. I aggressively seek it, however, for there is no other way that I can live a creative, reflective life in a world that becomes more and more chaotic with each passing moment. Don't postpone solitude to some future date as if it's a luxury. Try to find a little solitude in each day, even if it's just a quiet pause in your head, because, truthfully, a modicum of solitude is as essential to good health as food and exercise. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

  31. Hi George, Silence and solitude are deeply necessary to me. As I live my life as a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, I am refreshed by the moments of alone-time, focusing on the breath, feeling the beat of my heart, quieting the inner voice. Your photographs always mesmerize - they lend their stories to me - gifts.

  32. To Barb,

    Thanks, Barb, for the kind comments. I can tell from your own blog that you are a lover of solitude. It's necessary for me as well. Have a nice weekend!

  33. There is a lot in this post and discussion which I have read with great interest. I very much identify with the requirement of solitude and also I often think that I must be old fashioned and out of touch. It is probably that I feel more at home and comfortable where there is some stability.
    There is sort of raw capitalist anarchy in society here as the baby has been thrown out with the dirty bathwater of communism. To continue that comparison I would say that some of the scum of those years remains in the bathtub as well, as a parasite that changes its form according to the times in order to suit its needs.
    Current president, Vaclav Klaus, famously stated in the 1990s, when he was prime minister, that it didn't matter how you made money as long as you made money, an alarming statement. We need wealth but the meaning of the word is so often misinterpreted and taken to mean money at any cost instead of well-being.
    For our well-being, we need this contact with where we really belong.

    The image of the butterfly is beautiful, George. It has such powerful tenderness. As a portrayer of such beauty it is no wonder that you get so frustrated with the ugly things in this world.

  34. To Tramp,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Tramp. I receive them on an evening when, frankly, I am somewhat despondent over the current state of the world. It's nice to know that I have like-minded friends, even if they are half a world away.

    Dog-eat-dog capitalism has become the reigning theology of my country and most of the western world. Unfortunately, I don't see any real prospect for change. People seem to have lost their way. No time for reflection, no time for spiritual growth. Just greed and consumption. For these reasons, solitude is not a luxury for me. It is a necessity.

    Thanks again for your comments. I hope your health continues to be on the mend.

  35. George
    If I can come back on a grey wet Sunday morning here and try to explain where I see hope. When I find it difficult to see how I can make a difference at a global level, even a national one I have to go down to the local level, in our everyday lives we can do something to show that the personal, individual, eccentric touch means something. We have to pass on ten times any help or positive feeling that we receive to those who need it.
    On Friday evening I had a magnificent experience. A colleague of mine at the high school where I teach one day a week invited my wife and I to a concert that a group of friends put on. They were a choir of 6 ladies who sang beautifully unaccompanied, nothing but human voices in harmony, not even a microphone in the small intimate atmosphere. There were happy songs and sad, but they all had a beauty about them. It was such a wonderful contrast to these "Let's find a new superstar" extravaganzas which plague television here. I'm sure you must know the format: false glaring hypnotic lights, as much electronics as possible, make up... anything to hide the human individuality of whoever is involved. Friday evening was about real human warmth. Now it is my task to pass this on.
    I say these things to you, my friend as I find this warmth and personal, individual, eccentricity also in you posts and although we have never met I am sure that we have said enough to each other for you to know that in my own eccentric way that is one big compliment.

  36. To Tramp,

    What a delight to wake up this morning and hear from you again, Tramp, especially with such an uplifting message. It's great to hear that you and your wife had such an enriching experience at the little local concert. You're absolutely right about this — we must find solace, contentment, and reassurance in our small communities. This is where we find the essence of life; everything else, particularly the global and national issues, is simply a distraction. I will try to keep your advice close to my heart as I venture into the week ahead. Thanks again.

  37. The scary observations about the senatorial candidates sends me shuddering. Scarier than any goblins I saw on Halloween night. If you consider yourself old-fashioned, then I am right there alongside you!

    I had the same stark reality check when we returned from Norway this summer. There is something about the Norwegians' peaceful contentment that is so appealing to me. Coming back to the US, I was startled by the restless quest for more.

    Once again you present beautiful pairings of wisdom and images. Your shots of the bluebirds and the Great Blue Heron are spectacular, as usual. May I ask what camera you use? I assume you use a tripod or other stabilizing devices because if you don't, I commend your steady hands.

    I love Mary Sarton's distinction between loneliness and solitude.

  38. To Dutchbaby,

    Thanks for the thoughtful and lovely comments. I, too, have great admiration for the peaceful contentment that one finds in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries. The Scandinavians don't seem to be caught up in the raw, dog-eat-dog greed and materialism that is so pervasive in American life.

    Glad you liked the photos. For the most part, I use a Nikon D80 and my favorite lens are a Nikkor 105mm macro and a Nikkor 300 mm telephoto. Increasingly, I am also carrying a small Canon G-10, which is a phenomenal camera that travels well and is great for street photography and wide angles. All of the bird photos and many of the butterfly photos involved use of a tripod. With the 105, however, I can often shoot good butterfly photos by hand, provided I take the time to establish my presence and remain patient.

  39. Far from the madding crowd is right. The Rilke again caught my eye, since I am so "into" him at the moment. Another beautiful, thought provoking post, George.

  40. To Willow,

    Thanks, Willow, for the lovely comments. One can never get enough of Rilke; nor can one get too far from the madding crowd.