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Thread: Solitude

  1. #1

    Solitude

    What does this word mean to you? It can be a most personal subject, I realize. Without checking the record, I am sure it has been the subject of several posts here, but I am asking more with respect to Buddhism. This word also appears often enough in Buddhist texts.
    Are you a pratyekasattva (Sanskit) or paccekasatta (Pali); a solitary being?
    Care to talk about it?
    Gassho,
    Don

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Solitude

    Hello Don,

    Well I guess technically I qualify as a solitary being since I am a hermit in the eyes my Order and the world. I live alone with a Rule of life to guide my day interiorly and exteriorly. But try as I may, it is hard to truly keep solitude, to keep the rest of creation from creeping in. Of course I could just turn off and chuck out the computer and the internet for one, move further away from civilization, make less frequent trips into town to market, write fewer letters (yup, I really still do that!...with envelopes and stamps and all :shock: ) But like most hermits I've actually had the good fortune to know, and those I've read about, we are a gregarious lot. If we are not talking to God, Creation, animals, the forest, the stream, or you, we talk to ourselves. I DID NOT take a vow of silence!!! No matter how far away from town, how deep into the brush I may go to be away from the world, I will be taking the world with me in my pockets.

    So I've given up the battle to Garboesquely moan, "I vant to be alone", since I know it is not completely possible; but to resign myself to be in the company of so much in my solitude as a hermit...all of me and all of you.

    Gassho,

    Seishin Kyrill

  3. #3
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Solitude

    I love this word, and this experience.

    I have been a naturally somewhat solitary person most of my life.

    I have had, and continue to have, friends and relationships; I am not a total hermit.

    But I spend much more time alone than most of my peers. I am grateful as a woman not to feel like I have to be involved in a romantic relationship for my life to be worthwhile or to hold meaning. Most of my most powerful experiences have happened in solitude.

    There is something about the quiet one can find when one sets out to go where people are sparse. In college, searching for clarity, I took a solitary week-long camping trip out to the Mojave desert during Spring Break... it was amazing some nights, as I travelled from one spot to the other, to be able to look out miles in any direction and not see one sign of human life. Just the stars, and the campfire, and the desert wind.

    I think some amount of time spent in solitude, and a capacity to be in solitude without being disturbed, is required on the spiritual path. Don't get me wrong--I think our human relationships are at the heart of who we are and are where most of our growth and learning take place and are actualized. But we are social creatures that are heavily influenced in our thinking and behavior by our social interactions. It can be hard to see the extent of one's social conditioning if one never takes a moment to step outside of the social context and sit in silence with oneself only. It is all too easy to become dependent on our relationships with others if we do not learn how to appreciate life from the vantage point of solitude.

    I am grateful that I have been willing in my life to go to a new place where I am first uncomfortable, without the usual cultural reference points and relationships. It is only in this way I have really been able to see how much of any person's worldview is mere social and cultural conditioning. One begins to detach from a lot of the detritus that had build up around the self when one sets out as a lone seeker and traveller.

    All that said, for me, it's not a linear journey. I seek companionship and solitude in balance. And right now, I'm at a point in my life where I want to put down roots, be part of a community, have a much more active social life. I've clarified a lot of the "spiritual" matters that could only be clarified in solitude. And the solitude has begun to wear on me... to damage my outlook and to harden me. I believe that as much as I have needed solitude at certain points along the way, I now need to experience both the comfort and the humility of spending more of my time and energy in relationship and interaction with others.

    I want to be close to my family again, and feel at home, as I feel I've learned what I needed to learn by leaving home for the first time 11 years ago. And I've realized... while I never really felt fully at home in my hometown, because the worldview there was so alien to me, that you will never feel as at home in the world as the place where you grew up. I never felt homesick in all my years in school in Massachusetts, and then California, or my first year of grad school in New York... but the last couple of years have begat a growing, gnawing homesickness that has now reached a fever pitch. I get tears in my eyes when I hear the strain of a bluegrass fiddle and long to sit on my mom's front porch.

    I think a lot of that has to do with the extreme isolation I began to fall into here in early 2008. As many writers and artists have well attested, there is nothing like the solitude of being alone in big population-dense city. The world starts to feel unfriendly. And, of course, in college, for all the time I spent alone, I was nurtured and supported by the college and my friends and mentors there. And my mental health went downhill also when, after taking a year off and coming back, all of my friends graduated a semester later, and I still had a year to go.

    So for me, there is a balance to be found in going out into solitude and coming back to a web of relationship. I don't do too well when the balance is upset and things tip too far in one direction or the other. Long periods of isolation wreak havoc on me, but so do long periods when I cannot get time alone. As an introvert, I replenish my energies in solitude and get very cranky and nasty if I don't have sporadic breaks in dealing with people.

    I am planning to move home in the next few months, and to take a "sabbatical" of 2-3 months before returning to the workforce. During that time I would like to do another solitary retreat. But I also want to spend a lot of time with family. And I hope to never have to experience the same isolation and darkness I've experienced up here, as valuable and vital as it has been to experience it.

  4. #4

    Re: Solitude

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyrillos
    Well I guess technically I qualify as a solitary being since I am a hermit in the eyes my Order and the world. I live alone with a Rule of life to guide my day interiorly and exteriorly.
    Thank you very much for your reply, Kyrillos.
    May I ask, would you describe your solitude as one of being "in this world but not of this world"?
    Gassho,
    Don

  5. #5

    Re: Solitude

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    I have been a naturally somewhat solitary person most of my life
    Me too, Stephanie. The rest of your post is excellent as well (not just the quote above). In my case though (left to my own devices), I must confess I have been less balanced in my approach in the past; something which I am trying to remedy. That being said, I can spend extended periods of time alone and feel quite content about it. It isn't really that I "shun" company, or feel uncomfortable about being in it. Given my "druthers", I would be in my element somewhere in the Chinese Zhongnan Mountains, like the monks in the film "Amonst White Clouds).
    "Neither rejecting the company of others, nor seeking it" best describes my version of "solitary" prior to this.
    I think I came to Treeleaf to find a teacher though, as well as a middle way between solitary and company. It is kind of like being alone among others.
    Gassho,
    Don

  6. #6
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Solitude

    Thank you Don. I think if you are happy in solitude, you should just enjoy it! I think learning how to be happy in solitude is one of the keys to living a wise, peaceful life.

    But I think the romantic notions that those of the more solitary among us get at times--of finding our own mountaintop hermitages--are not very realistic. I used to try to think of ways to become completely solitary and independent, but I realized that to do so would require either a stockpile of possessions that would last a lifetime or training in numerous disciplines--home-building (or shelter-building), clothes making, food production, etc. And even if one managed to learn all the necessary skills, it would still mean one had to have learned them from someone else... we are social creatures through and through and cannot survive on our own.

    I think we need contact to some extent psychologically as well. I find it interesting that a lot of folks on the more solitary end of the spectrum gravitate to the Internet. There is something about contact via the Internet that allows for the exchange of ideas, feedback, and experiences without a lot of the elements of normal social interaction that can make less social and more introverted types a bit cranky. But even barring that... there is a reason so many hermits produced poetry and writing. And many of the 'hermits' in China took on, and continue to take on, students and disciples. There is this intense desire to communicate and share what we experience. To the point that what happens to you can seem unreal if you don't get a chance to share it with someone else, either directly via personal communication, or indirectly through publishing a memoir, etc.

    So I do think that "total solitude" is a fantasy in many different ways, as I wouldn't count someone as completely solitary that put time into communicating or sharing their experience with others and/or relied upon others for basic life functioning and needs (if you're not living in a shack you build yourself, raising your own sheep and carrots, etc.). But some measure of solitude is, IMO, vital for the spiritual life. Most of the stupid things we believe are due to social pressure and conditioning, as are many of the stupid things we do. The less fearful we are of being alone, the less likely we are to do something stupid or dishonest to maintain social approval. And the more likely we are to question conventional social wisdom.

    And I think, in many ways, with the above caveats, a solitary life is much simpler and easier. Some things are undoubtedly harder--going to the grocery store, getting housework done, take so much more time and labor than when the work is shared--but some things are much easier. Such as being able to select what one does in leisure time without interference or conflict with the wishes of others. Of course, if one were to build that fantasy hut in the mountains, most of one's time and energy would be spent performing basic survival and maintenance tasks, and there would be less time for repose and reflection than when living in a complex social context where people share and exchange the fruits of their different labors.

    So I think "partial hermitage" is a much more realistic option, a situation in which one goes into and retreats from the world in cycles, much like the ebb and flow of the tides.

    All that said... I personally am looking to become much more involved in social and community life. I want to share and give back all the knowledge and experience I have gained. But that is not to say I still won't be solitary to a certain extent. Solitude as an attitude of heart and mind is a matter of disposition and intent--this is where the "in the world but not of it" ideal springs from, that one is interiorly solitary in a way that changes the tenor of all experience. Relationships are driven less by need and fear and more by love and curiosity. I am still working on this... noticing when perceived need, fear, and psychological distortion is driving my behavior in relationship to others, looking at it, and letting go. The more solitary I become in my relationships... the more content to enjoy others just as they are... the better my relationships become, a strange and wonderful paradox well noted by many others.

  7. #7
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Solitude

    Yes Don, more "in" the world and not "of " it, although never in denial of the fact that it exists!

    Yes, Stephanie, I do think that there are a number of "stars-in-their-eyes" hermits who too often fail because they are totally unprepared for the reality of such a life. The primitive cabin the woods of a 19th C Russian hermit is a really, really hard life and calls for a number of skills we modern folks frankly no longer have. This is also why in most religious communities, both Eastern and Western, such "vocations" are tested by long adherence to the monastic rules of everyday life. The wisdom of the monastic elders was that if a person could weather a life of 20, 30 or 40 years among other monastics then they could probably tackle life as a hermit. Never, never, never was one foolishly let go in the new bloom of his fervor. It meant sure diaster. My own longing for the hermitage only was granted after some 35 years in vows; and now I am a novice-hermit.

    In this modern world there are a great number of solitaries living their lives under various circumstances. There truly are some in cabins in the woods, there are some in small groups of hermits, some in their own homes in small villages ( ), some in apartments in the cities. But in whatever situation they may be physically, they can be pursuing their practice in solitude. Some are socially active; some are not, being rather reclusive. Some are friendly and some are crabby; some well read, others rather ignorant and simple. We even have networks!!! Don't be surprised, the ancient hermits often knew who one another were and where each other was. They would get together perhaps once a year or so and perhaps teach one another.

    Being a hermit and living in solitude is not a common life, but it is not that uncommon of late either. An ultimately one who actuates the hermit life is only one who physically is doing what we all experience behind our eyes anyway, everyday in every moment.

    Gassho,


    Seishin Kyrill

  8. #8

    Re: Solitude

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyrillos

    In this modern world there are a great number of solitaries living their lives under various circumstances. There truly are some in cabins in the woods, there are some in small groups of hermits, some in their own homes in small villages ( ), some in apartmetns in the cities. But in whatever situation they may be physically, they can be pursuing their practice in solitude. Some are socially active; some are not, being rather reclusive. Some are friendly and some are crabby; some well read, others rather ignorant and simple. We even have networks!!! Don't be surprised, the ancient hermits often knew who one another were and where each other was. They would get together perhaps once a year or so and perhaps teach one another.

    Being a hermit and living in solitude is not a common life, but it is not that uncommon of late either. An ultimately one who actuates the hermit life is only one who physically is doing what we all experience behind our eyes anyway, everyday in every moment.
    This post fills me with joy. Thank you Brother. _/_

    I've long thought that solitude is not an external factor. One can, of course, be alone; that is obvious. Solitude, though, is a spiritual aspiration. To be solitary is to to free oneself of the jabbering masses in the mind.

    Not to be rid of them, simply to be free of their control.

    Free to come and go, wander through life without being pushed or pulled by anything. Free to watch the waves of pleasure and pain, anger and joy ebb and flow without diving in.

    Solitude is the freedom of letting go.

    Metta,

    Perry

  9. #9

    Re: Solitude

    I'm impressed. There are things in each post which speak to the variety of experience and understanding which people apply to this subject. The only part of any discussion which gives me pause for thought is when we start to say "it is" this or similar. After the fact, when it is me saying it, of course. :wink:
    If you are interested, there is a commentary available on accesstoinsight.org, titled "Ideal Solitude". In fact, if you google that title you will see an array of information from the Pali Canon; Theran?ma Sutta, and Bhaddekaratta Sutta in principal. Some might be surprised at the content. In the first, the approach is kind of like 'there is this kind of solitary and there is this other'. At least that is the way I read it.
    I even found a commentary from our own tradition, based on Dogen's Shobogenzo (Uji). It seemed highly subjective appraisal at first glance, but maybe when Jundo has some time (after Thursday's Zazenkai, the Welcomings, and of course our first Ordinations) he might give some give a perspective in that vein.
    I hope there are others who will take a shot at this discussion. Until then...
    Gassho,
    Don

  10. #10

    Re: Solitude

    Quote Originally Posted by Don
    The only part of any discussion which gives me pause for thought is when we start to say "it is" this or similar.
    You are correct, of course, that it when one says "'it is' this or similar," we close the door to dialogue. My apologies for my poorly worded post, and my gratitude for your kindness in pointing out my error. I should have considered this point and said something akin to "for me," or "in my experience."

    Metta,

    Perry

  11. #11

    Re: Solitude

    "when one says "'it is' this or similar," we close the door to dialogue" - Perry

    Perry, I think many of us do it without thinking. I certainly have done, do and probably will do again. All we can do is gently remind each other from time to time. Do me a favour? Be around to remind me when the time comes.
    Gassho,
    Don

  12. #12

    Re: Solitude

    Hi Don,
    Solitude is a rich subject to contemplate because I think it can mean different things to different people: one person's solitude can be another person's isolation, in fact one person's solitude can be the same person's isolation at a different time and place. So thinking about it can help us to appreciate how our perception of the world is based on our subjective feelings.

    I was quite happy living a solitary life about 15 years ago and then I had an arthritis flare up which meant I could hardly walk. But I was OK with that because that had happened before and I pottered on. But then I got measles as well which meant that I knew that no one could visit me even if they wanted to because most of my crowd were pregnant or had small children at the time, and I surprised myself by bursting into floods of tears when someone phoned me. I think that was the only time that I've actually felt real loneliness, something that so many people must live with everyday.

    So, to me, solitude is a condition of choice and is always a positive quality, it's a luxury commodity in fact these days and is often marketed as such. Although it's interesting to note that a lot of the apparent synonyms in my dictionary, (alone, living alone, not gregarious, without companions, single, separated, secluded, lonely, reclusive), often have more negative overtones. It's odd to think of people spending loads of hard-earned cash to guarantee a situation for themsleves from which many others would spend the same amount of hard-earned cash to escape.

    I'm not sure, but I suspect that the positive aspects of solitude were developed during the romantic period and have had such a cultural impact that I now find it difficult to remove those particular glasses. When reading the commentary on "accesstoinsight.org" I did wonder whether the translation of phrases like "lover of solitude" and "delight in being alone", while being technically correct also shared that romantic viewpoint? The translation, "In sylvan solitude find delight" certainly reeks of cod-Wordsworth romaticism to me, but I wonder if the commentary as a whole is affected by this. Aren't there some Buddhist practices in which the monk is recommended to sit and watch an animal or a human corpse decompose in order to understand the nature of mortality, that it is 'just this'? And in the same way maybe the sutta is saying that you should get at home with/feel comfortable about what it also regards as a generally accepted negative condition: solitude. Maybe "delight in being isolated" or "lover of loneliness" would be closer translations, but less acceptable to a western audience? I dunno! Anyway, thank you for the link and for raising the topic, it's interesting.

    gassho,
    Monkton

  13. #13

    Re: Solitude

    Go raibh maith agat, Monkton.
    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, personal experience and analysis. Nicely done.
    Gassho,

  14. #14

    Re: Solitude

    Don-

    First of all, I would like to thank you for this thread. I am going to attempt to put in my two cents, so I hope that the following makes sense and that I stay on topic.

    When I see the word solitude, it brings to mind a sense of being at peace. IMO, most of us, including myself, feel that we need to change our surroundings in order to achieve this peace. In the busy world we live in, vacations are a much needed time to be able to reboot ourselves from our stressful lives. For example, using myself as a reference, I have a wife and three year old daughter, so it's hard for me to find that sense of solitude. I like to take my family to the mountains for long weekends in order to achieve this goal of solitude or isolation. We take walks in the woods or just sit and read. I am surrounded by my family, but I still feel that solitude because there are no expectations and busy schedules to follow. When our lives are filled with ringing phones, being stuck in traffic, and the random annoyances that we each each deal with every day; it's hard to remember that our perceptions are what hinder solitude. We don't need to go anywhere, or be alone to achieve solitude. We just need to adjust the way we look at the world. This ability to come back to the stillness of life is what becomes easier as our practice matures. When Jundo speaks of 'instant zazen,' this is what, IMO, he's alluding to. I hope that I am not putting words in his mouth, but to find that stillness in life regardless of what craziness the world throws into the mix, is important in this practice.

    I hope that the above makes sense.


    Gassho,

    Adam

  15. #15

    Re: Solitude

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    When Jundo speaks of 'instant zazen,' this is what, IMO, he's alluding to. I hope that I am not putting words in his mouth, but to find that stillness in life regardless of what craziness the world throws into the mix, is important in this practice.
    Yes, to find the stillness even as sitting still or as the movement of life. To find the stillness which is, sometimes, the chaos and the storm of life. In fact, this "stillness" is the movement and the movement all stillness.

    And even to find and know the stillness that is fully manifesting even when the chaos and storm is blowing so hard that not even a drop of "stillness" and peace can be found. Stillness even when no stillness can be felt (trusting that stillness is there nonetheless, like the sun and moon are there even when hidden by the clouds ... the clouds just the moon and sun, and sun and moon just the clouds, all unbroken sky. Sometimes one is seen, sometimes the other.).

    Stillness so still whether felt or not, still or not.

    Gassho, J

  16. #16

    Re: Solitude

    Thank you, Adam.
    Many thanks, Jundo.
    Gassho all,
    Don

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