‘To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.’ RW Emerson
One of the most positively astonishing things about our existence in this strange and open world is this apparent fact that every single one of us is irrevocably, inescapably, and absolutely alone; there is no avoiding this point, no matter how hard we work to free ourselves through dressing up our ego, through the achievement of personal, temporal power, or through whatever superficial means that so many of us try in our desperate and strikingly futile attempt to be released from this dark and infernal fact that human consciousness is purely singular. It is impossible to conceive of some ‘multi-faceted consciousness’, thinking, doing, being innumerable entities simultaneously. And yet here we are, seemingly trapped in a reality that logically drifts toward unity, coherence, oneness, while we hide ourselves in the ugly dross of an indefinite need for a comfortable multiplicity, a state where we do not need personal integrity due to the notion that we are not actually alone and therefore not actually responsible for our own salvation.
The compelling truth about solitude is that it wholeheartedly denies this weak conception of numbers, and how we can hide in them; solitude has no need for the approval of outsiders as it already has the firm and uncompromising approval of itself. It is a center expanding outward; already convinced of its own self-worth it has little care for the appearances encircling it. Whereas the One has no need of the many, the many requires the One, which succinctly expresses the fundamental relationship between the trend towards solitude and the trend towards company.
To become solitary, it is not enough to escape the company of others; it is enough to cease dependence on the idea of company. To realize first and foremost that you were born stranded and alone in a great yet foreign land is to know solitude; to peer into the starry heavens during a nocturnal stroll is to know solitude; and to finally look into the eyes of a loved one as we journey on from this world is to know solitude. The truth is that these perennial images of ‘cosmic loneliness’ are actually quite terrifying; and we run, we run from them weeping and dismayed, clutching at the garments of our beloved mother, who offers a clear and immediate sense of safety from the horrors of this universe; and yet we are all the while keenly aware that this benevolent deity who pats our back and strokes our hair is not actually God.
It is necessary to love our mother; she raises us from infancy, clothes our naked flesh, and protects us with a ferocity akin to that of the remote wilderness. In order to love God, however, it is necessary to leave our mother; love her just as well, but reach beyond the relative comfort of her embrace and step into the cosmos as a child finally steps into a man, with resolution and an abundant sense of purpose. The motion that drives a man away from his mother and into the Unknown is the same as that which drives a man towards solitude, towards a certain vision of reality that is not quite identical to the one he has previously known, but one that is rather similar to that which he knew in boyhood, where the world is painted in a motley of reds and greens and blues, where every image seems to take on a new and vibrant shape and colour, where every villain is cunning, low, and visibly evil, and where every lady is startling, rapturous, and wonderful (if she is not a witch, that is). The man has effectively transcended boyhood to discover boyhood, beautifully reshaped in the crystallized reflection of a wiser and healthier maturity.
‘Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ Matt. 18: 3-4
For all of this passion about oneness and vision and whatnot, we have spent precious few words on the nature of solitude itself, which we hope to presently rectify by delineating a certain process by which one realizes its deep and universal potential. Reaching into the dark depths of reality, to become stronger by means of facing the hard fact of our estrangement, is the first step towards solitude; to plumb through the multidimensional fabric which makes our world what it is with the poetic awareness of an adventurer is the second; these two we have already described in part, but it is the third and final step which is the only one that can deliver us to the full meaning of the solitary state.
When we have mastered our fear of the outside world, our courage is strengthened and bravery will come easily when any particular danger threatens. So, the awakening of internal virtues arises through the conquest of what we see externally; the same applies when we go out from our mother and into the frigidity of space to begin the tempering of spirit, mind, and body, where our ‘internal virtues’ are once again easier to access. The final and most important part of this entire process is the coming out again. It is not terribly difficult to follow these ‘drives’ toward solitude, where we might easily fall prey to some kind of satanic greed for individual power, or some savage misanthropy; but it is quite difficult indeed to control these ‘drives’.
The fullness of solitude is not to be ‘solitary’ at all; instead, it is to be at peace with God, the world, our fellow man. Our being in solitude is to be in communion with our soul, the fount of wisdom of not merely our own thoughts, but of Eternity; it is our essential link which connects us to all human ancestry, all posterity, and will serve us solitary seekers by re-uniting man with man, brother with brother, not in any profane, political sense, but in the far greater context of a resurrected humanity meeting the shining face of God, of Christ during the Last Judgment. This, then, is the third and final step towards true solitude: the overcoming of the inner world to edify the outer world; our interior perspectives are materialized into something (which we call Vision) that sees everything exterior in the same beneficent light.
This wonderful ‘blossoming out’ of the internal intellect into perspective and the remastered shape of our character is easiest to observe by acknowledging the fact that what we perceive is entirely dictated by what we know and whom we really are; an Oriental sage, for instance, might gaze at a single stone marring the flow of a trickling stream for hours on end while someone well-versed in metallurgy might well see in the stone a material value, dragging it away to examine it in detail. If we seriously pursue the ‘solitary state’ we will find that the truth bequeathed to us through our triumph over luxury, our mastery over darkness, etc., will shockingly alter our perception to something altogether keener, altogether wiser in its general activities. This is true to such an extent that, after going through the peace or nightmare of being alone in both body and spirit, we actually experience the joys of being in this world with so many different things, so many different places that we explore and appreciate on a far greater level than previously thought possible. So, the natural result of loneliness is freedom; and the natural result of solitude is fellowship, if not in personal companionship, but at least in the way we view the world.
To bring this rather ambitious and poetic statement back to more grounded terms, for the mere convenience of our more grounded readers (the lot of you be damned), we mean only that the path of the solitary necessarily begins in darkness, as the seeker survives the ‘dark night of the soul’ and so forth, and necessarily ends in the sunny realms of day, where the seeker can look on his past trails as inferior but no less necessary. Simply stated, perfect solitude is that which does not fear the terrors of fate, of realizing oneself as truly alone in the universe, and neither is it afraid of the pressures of the outside world, of going about in fellowship with other men and creatures; solitude knows freedom from this world for it is ultimately stranded and alone in this world; and solitude knows beauty in this world for it walks happily amongst this world. There is not even any fretful ambiguity: we are as free to enjoy the beauty of this land as an artist is to enjoy his own creation, only we have the same delight in experiencing it again and again and again, forever onward through the vast and splendid halls of time…
‘But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ Matt. 6:6