The finest human achievements occur in solitude. The grandest experiences unfold in hermitage from the rest of humanity. And the healing sense of inner and outer unity and wholeness, that well being which so transforms life and awareness, potentiates into the actual in intensive isolation. So what is solitude, and what does it mean for us?
The key lies in how to ‘do’ solitude. Realizing that there is nothing to be done or achieved, I abandon all the trappings that might be suggested by retreat – the cowls, beads, incense and prayers. I let these go as much as I can because I am determined to find the essence of solitude.
What is that essence?
First, the inner essence of solitude can be seen as Freedom. Everyday life is an anaesthetic that numbs me to my own bondages. I am bound to cravings, addictions, opinions, relationships – and yet am unaware of the pain of my bondage until I can be alone enough to note the cords that bleed my wrists where they have been tied too tight. Freedom from bondage is freedom to exist with fewer conditions. It is the negative form of joy, the absence of agony as joy.
Second, the inner essence of solitude can be experienced as Energy. The world is fake to me. I am tired by all the things which once amused me. Sex is trite and luxury entrapping. Refinements of culture and intellect are so much stifling accumulations, until like geological strata they threaten to crush me. If I throw off society without rancour or escapism, but knowing I will find the true life or die seeking it, then a great energy has been aroused which exhilirates and fires up the inner life. Energy is required to smash the inner encrustration of tension and pain, obedience and bright cheerfulness. Energy is required to fix the fake fripperies wriggling to the spot like pinned butterflies, and take their life from them. Energy is required for solitude to be real and authentic.
Third, the inner essence of solitude can be understood as Anonymity. From this key principle, I become invisible and no longer attract the chaos of the everyday world. From anonymity comes all the blisses of solitude: purity, humility, silence, surrender – all arise from the successful passage through tests to my anonymous stance. Say someone comes to me and tells me I am a great spiritual person. Only with anonymity can I reply humbly that it is not me but something greater than me which does what I cannot. I feel grateful to symbolise this greatness by life, and I don't care to have an opinion on what it is exactly. How does another opinion help? Better off being quiet and anonymous.
What is solitude like? It is like a desert. It is like a cosmic desert waiting for a single drop of the divine to fall into it. It is like an endless grand spaciousness opening all directions at once towards infinity. Solitude reveals the true self and releases the false, slowly and step by step. If the only true shelter is found in the self, then solitude is the doorway to that shelter.