Archive for October, 2020

There is a difference between loneliness and solitude, one will deplete you and one will nurture you. You have the power to choose. –Anonymous

SO, WHAT ARE some of the conditions that are conducive to ‘Solitude’?   This morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly explore two of these.  [AN ASIDE: ‘Conditions’ – Think: Environment, Attitude, Need, Inner Space/External Space, etc.]

The Wilderness.  All of the great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets (those we know about at any rate) spent time in the wilderness in order to experience solitude.  When Moses fled for his life from Egypt, he fled to the wilderness.  The great prophet, Amos, sought out and entered into the wilderness.  Jesus spent forty day and forty nights in the wilderness.  Paul, after his conversation with Ananias went into the wilderness.  Gandhi spent time in the wilderness.  Nelson Mandela spent years in the wilderness.

Sometimes the wilderness is an external place and sometimes it is an internal refuge.  It is crucial to understand that the wilderness is not the desert nor is it the deep dark woods nor is it the ‘dark night of the soul’ (those are powerful metaphors that are, at times, confused with the wilderness and at times can become the wilderness – which adds to the confusion). 

Each of us is challenged to discern and define that which constitutes our personal wilderness.  Here is a guiding question: What space, internal or external, enables solitude to become ‘real’ for you?  Here is another: What space provides you the freedom from internal & external noise, distraction, addiction, busyness, etc.? 

For many years, I had one chair that I would sit in when I wanted to move into the wilderness and embrace solitude – most often it was an internal wilderness and solitude that I experienced.  Even though I have lived alone the past 20+ years I still have one chair that I sit in when I want to cross the threshold and reside in my inner wilderness and embrace solitude. 

When I traveled regularly I loved traveling to large cities for I would then walk the streets late at night and would be able to enter into the wilderness when I did so.  Even now, this morning, I can close my eyes and re-experience the solitude of walking alone in a large city during the middle of the night.  Large cities were my modern equivalent of the wilderness of Moses, Amos, Jesus and Paul. 

I have a good friend, George, who finds his place of solitude in the woods or by the sea shore (think: ocean) or in the mountains.  I knew a farmer who walked out into his fields and sat down as this was his wilderness and place of solitude.  I knew the President of a large corporation who would close his office door, sit in his ‘chair-of-solitude’ and for five minutes he would experience being in the wilderness – a place of solitude for him.

A QUESTION: Gentle Reader, what is – or might be – your equivalent of the wilderness?

A QUESTION: Gentle Reader, what do you need to do in order to commit to developing and integrating a routine that would more likely open the door to solitude for you?

This leads us to our second condition.

The Time & Timing of Solitude.  Many of the great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets would rise before dawn in order to move into solitude.  Preparation for a noise-full, busy-full, distract-full, challenge-full day.  Time & Timing are crucial.  Experimenting with a variety of Times (length of time spent in solitude) and Timing might be helpful – at minimum they will provide you feedback.  When I was living a life amidst the chaos I found that I was more likely to go to solitude when I embraced ‘solitude as sacred’. 

I have a friend who wrote down her schedule for the day and then she chose two times when she would enter into solitude.  One time was ‘internal’ and one time was ‘external.’  The specific times would vary from day to day – the length of time she spent in solitude would not (five minutes for the ‘internal’ and fifteen minutes for the external). 

Gentle Reader, I invite you to experiment, then choose and commit for at least 28 days.  Then evaluate.  Go for consistency, not perfection for ‘things happen’ – things that will hinder or interrupt our time of solitude. 

Given all of this, what are some practices/disciplines that might support and nurture ‘Solitude’? 

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. –Thoreau

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Loneliness is the inevitable fact of human existence. –Thomas Wolfe

What are some of the ingredients that are necessary in order for us to create ‘Solitude’? 

The key ingredients will vary from person to person and so one invitation for you today, Gentle Reader: To take some time and note or emerge and note the ingredients that are necessary for you in order to create ‘Solitude.’  Here are four of mine.

Loneliness.  The great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets of all ages remind us that we humans ‘live’ within a number of polarities.  One of these polarities is the polarity of Loneliness________Ecstasy.  In order to move into solitude we must be able to move into and embrace Loneliness.  We do not cherish, much less even like, Loneliness.  We will go to great lengths to avoid the experience/feeling.  It takes courage (think: ‘heart’) in order to seek out, embrace, and reside in the house of loneliness.  Solitude will not visit, nor stay, if we are not living in the house of loneliness.  The great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets counsel and console us with these words: Be Not Afraid!   [Ya, sure, easy for them to say…well, then again, perhaps it was not easy for them to say.]

Freedom from the Crowd.  We have two essential human freedoms: Freedom From (as in Freedom from Fear) and Freedom To (as in Freedom to Choose).  Erich Fromm reminds us that we ‘fear freedom’ [See Fromm’s powerful treatise: Escape From Freedom].  Again, the great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets all sought ways to escape from the ‘Crowd.’  They were not able to enter into ‘Solitude’ without escaping from the ‘Crowd’ (the ‘Crowd’ is a both a reality – the literal crowds that tried to engulf them – and is a metaphor, the ‘Crowds’ of noise, distraction, temptation, etc.).  ‘Crowds,’ as we know, are quite fickle.  They can be wildly supportive one minute and wildly destructive the next (ask any of the Prophets about the fickleness of the crowds). 

Each of the great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets knew (or learned – not an easy lesson to be learned for most of them) that if they were going to become the person they were called to be that they need time away from the ‘Crowd’ – literal and metaphorical.  By the by, Freud, Jung and other great psychologists remind us that depression and despair occur more frequently in people who do not, on a regular basis, escape the ‘Crowd’ (psychological research continues to support this reality).

A Responsibility & a Right to Private-Personal Thoughts.  We not only have a ‘right’ to our personal thoughts we have an obligation-responsibility to develop them.  How many people know the difference between their thoughts and the thoughts of their parents, their faith-traditions, their ‘leaders,’ etc.?  In a sense, having our ‘own thoughts’ is akin to having ‘personal space.’ 

There is another aspect of this responsibility and right.  We have the responsibility and right NOT TO divulge all of our thoughts.  I am thinking of Sir Thomas Moore (1478-1535) and his refusal to reveal his thoughts about Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage.  Moore did not even reveal his thoughts to his wife.  He tells his wife ‘in silence is my safety under the law, but my silence must be absolute, it must extend to you.’  He was protecting her from having to testify against him in court.  His silence left him alone with his God and his conscience.

Companionship with God.  Once again, the great wisdom figures, mystics and prophets are role-models for us.  They remind us, by their words and by their behavior, that a central ingredient of ‘Solitude’ resides in the belief (and at times experience) that God is always with them; God remains faithful even when all others do not (including the times when one abandons one’s self).  ‘Awareness’ of God’s presence provides consolation, companionship and transforms loneliness into solitude.  This companionship enables one to transform privacy into ethical responsibility – we develop, embrace and enact our own ethical-moral convictions.  What we think transforms into moral integrity.  The great Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, reminds us that we can leave God and that God never leaves us.  In fact, when we leave God, God continues to search for us. 

So given all of this, what are some of the conditions conducive to ‘Solitude’? 

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Only in solitude do we find ourselves. –Unamuno

What are some of the signs that call us to a place and an experience of solitude?  Gentle Reader, here are four signs that call me to a place and an experience of solitude. 

Fatigue.  Fatigue is a sign that we need sleep.  Fatigue is also more than a sign that we are tired.  It is a sign that we have become so depleted that our vitality has been compromised.  For some it is the metaphor that our inner fire/passion is being extinguished and we are filling up with dense smoke and suffocating from within.  This type of fatigue is the result of extended and excessive effort (physical, intellectual, emotional and/or spirit(ual) effort).  For thousands of years when the great mystics, wisdom figures and prophets experienced fatigue they sought solitude and by example counsel us to do so. 

Gentle Reader: Where and when do you become the most fatigued?  What is your ‘traditional’ response to being fatigued?  Does your response get you what you want?  What do you want (when you are fatigued)?

Loss of Perspective.  For me, perspective means that I am able to ‘see’ persons and things with clarity – as they truly are.  When I have perspective my lens of distortion is then, mostly, opaque.  When I lose perspective my lens of distortion becomes clear and becomes the lens through which I ‘see’ persons and things.  Fatigue is a sibling to loss of perspective and together they powerfully impact me – and, hence, others.  When I have lost my perspective I not only ‘see’ people and things through a darker lens, I will also ‘see’ them through a distorted brighter lens. 

Gentle Reader: What happens to you when you lose perspective?  What contributes to your losing perspective?  How do you know you have lost perspective?  What do you do to help yourself regain perspective?  

Poor Judgment.  When I experience fatigue and/or loss of perspective I then find myself exercising poor judgment.  I become more inappropriately reactive rather than intentionally responsive.  My ability to think critically diminishes and I resort more to ‘shoot-from-the-lip’ which involves little, if any, critical thinking.  My decision-making becomes more impulsive and less discerning.  My reflex judgment is also diminished.  This is the judgment that is activated when a car suddenly stops in front of us as we are driving (people who operate potentially dangerous machines know of what I speak as does anyone who has learned to walk).  When our reflex judgment is diminished we make more mistakes and can catch ourselves saying: ‘Today I should have stayed in bed!’ 

Gentle Reader: How do you manifest poor judgment?  What is your response when you become aware of enacting poor judgment?  What helps you become aware of enacting poor judgment? 

Confusion of Mind & Heart.  This is, for me, a double-bind.  The two confusions feed one another and I end up even more confused.  When I experience this type of confusion I respond by procrastinating; I become stuck.  For me, this type of confusion unleashes the god of disorder and this god of disorder reigns – takes over.  The image of the deer in the headlights just emerged into my consciousness – an apt image for me when I am confused in this way. 

These four, especially when they are all present at the same time, cry out to me: ‘It is time to go to Solitude!’  My mother was a superb cook and was care-full as to the ingredients she choose.  So, Gentle Reader, I leave us this morning with a question: ‘What are some of the ingredients that are necessary for the feast called ‘Solitude’?’   We will explore a few of these ingredients next time.  

Language has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone. –Paul Tillich

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Solitude is a solitary boat floating in a sea of possible companions. –Robert Fulghum

In April, 1995 I took my first trip to The Netherlands.  It was the afternoon of my fourth day and my host, Tjeb, invited me to join him, his wife and young son for dinner at their home.  When I close my eyes I can, once again, experience one of the most breath-taking views I have ever experienced.  As we were driving along we approached a small incline (The Netherlands is quite flat and it does have some slight inclines that add character to the landscape). 

Tjeb down-shifted and he slowly drove up the incline.  As the car reached the top of the incline he pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.  I looked.  My breath was taken away.  Unfolding in front of me was a literal sea of tulips.  This sea meandered for miles and the waves of colors moving in response to the soft ocean breezes added a touch to this living canvas full of colors. Tjeb simply said “It is tulip season.”  Tjeb parked his car.  We stepped out.  We stood and drank in the sea of tulips and immersed ourselves in the silence and the solitude. My soul was nourished by the nutrients of sea, silence and solitude. 

After savoring the silence, the sea and the solitude we returned to Tjeb’s car and in silence continued our journey homeward.  After some minutes Tjeb took a left turn and we drove down a quiet country road.  Then, all of a sudden, the road ended.  In front of us was a lake.  No homes.  Tjeb pulled in to a small parking lot.  He turned the car key, the engine stopped.  Tjeb stepped out of his car.  He turned and smiled.  I got out of his car.  He began walking toward the water.  I followed.  We walked down a small incline.  I saw a number of row boats tethered to a pier. 

Tjeb approached one row boat.  He untied it (all the boats were tied, not locked).  He stepped in and again smiled.  I then stepped in.  I sat in the back of the row boat and Tjeb took up the oars, dipped them in the water and we slowly began to move onto the lake.  No words had been spoken since our sea of tulip experience. 

Tjeb’s oar strokes were slow, powerful and silent.  We continued to savor the solitude and a different sea, not of tulips but of water.  We did not cross the lake but went parallel to the shore.  Then we approached a canal (The Netherlands, you might remember Gentle Reader, is a land of canals).  Tjeb directed our boat into the canal and there appeared in front of us a house-boat – Tjeb’s home.  As we approached his home, Tjeb’s wife and ten year old son appeared and waved to us.  We were welcomed home.

There are houses and homes that line many streets.  There are houses and homes that are built at the end of streets – an old friend of mine built his home at the ‘dead-end’ of a street.  Then there are house-boat homes that reside in solitude on placid canals.  When I think of solitude incarnate I image Tjeb’s house-boat home.  Even today I can close my eyes and image myself rowing a boat into a canal of silence and solitude.  I can image myself coming home to a house-of-solitude. 

I have learned – actually, I continue to learn – that if I am going to nurture my soul then solitude is an experience I must seek out and embrace.  Finding solitude in a world of noise, busyness, distraction and speed is, indeed, a daunting challenge. 

During these many years of seeking solitude I have learned to recognize some of the signs that indicate for me a need for solitude.  Next time I will share some of these signs with you and in the meantime I invite you, Gentle Reader, to discern and name the signs that call you to a place and experience of solitude. 

Solitude is the richness of self. –May Sarton

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Conscience is God’s herald and messenger. –St. Bonaventure

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  Today I am going to conclude our brief exploration of Conscience.  I have been focusing on the ‘Authoritarian Conscience.’  

In the authoritarian orientation, the power of will and creation are the privilege of the authority.  Those subject to him/her are means to ends and, consequently, are possessions – property, objects – to be used.  The creation and unleashing of Zealots is one end for some authoritarian figures.  It appears as if the two young Boston bombers had become zealots and had become ‘means’ to an end; as zealots they were able to act guilt-free (at least at the time of their ‘acting’). 

There is a paradox present in all of this.  The authoritarian ‘guilty conscience’ is a result of the feeling of strength, independence, and pride while the authoritarian ‘good conscience’ emanates from the feeling of obedience, dependence, and powerlessness (and some would add ‘sinfulness’).  In other words, to be aware of one’s powerlessness, to despise oneself, to be burdened by guilt and sin are the signs of goodness. 

The very fact of having a guilty conscience if one disobeys is in itself a sign of one’s virtue because the ‘guilty conscience’ is a symptom of one’s ‘fear and trembling’ before the authority (as a person parented by a staunch Polish Catholic and a staunch English Presbyterian I know this one way too well). 

One paradoxical result of this is that the ‘authoritarian guilty conscience’ becomes a tap root for a ‘good conscience’ while the ‘good conscience’, if one should develop it, will create a sense of guilt for rebelling against both the internal and the external authority. 

There is another powerful paradox at play.  Once I internalize the authority and take on its role I become both the obedient ‘it’ and the strict authority who treats myself as such [at times I use a ‘garden’ metaphor and in this metaphor I am both the gardener and I am the garden that has been entrusted to me; this is another powerful paradox].  What happens to me (and you and us) when I integrate this authority and then when I live into and out of it is that I do violence to myself and call it being virtuous. 

Our young Boston bombers ended up doing violence to themselves and to others and my hunch is they did so in the name of ‘being virtuous’ and ‘obedient.’  [Gentle reader, I invite you to spend time with Eric Fromm’s powerful work ‘Escape from Freedom’]. 

In conclusion, consider that not only do guilt feelings result from one’s dependence on an irrational authority and from the feeling that it is one’s duty to please that authority but the guilt feeling in its turn reinforces dependence (what is the dependence that the two young Boston bombers were caught in). 

Historically, ‘guilt feelings’ have proved (continue to prove) to be the most effective means of forming and increasing and sustaining dependency.  The authoritarian person/conscience helps the dependent one to feel guilty; this guilt is unavoidable and hence requires forgiveness. 

A cycle of transgression, guilt and forgiveness is begun and sustained.  It is this powerful interaction between guilt feeling and dependency which makes the authoritarian relationship viable and strong.  This dependence on the authority (whether internal or external) results in a weakening of the will of the dependent person and hence increases the need to be dependent on the authority. 

This cycle seems quite common to me and hence it does not surprise me that two young men could become so dependent that in response to their external and internal authority that they would, in the name of virtue, be able to guilt-free harm others and harm themselves. 

Having a conscience is not the same as using it. –Jostein Gaarder

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