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.
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.
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.
Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.
In solitude, where we are least alone.
Loneliness can be conquered only by those who can bear solitude.
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.