Solitude as a Sacred Path
Solitude often has negative connotations in western society, but throughout history numerous religions and spiritual practices have viewed it as a way of reaching higher degrees of enlightenment, emotional balance and inner peace.
Buddha once likened solitude to the single horn of a rhinoceros, repeating the phrase, one should wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn, throughout a passage in the holy scripture of the Sutta Nipata. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, Jesus wanders the desert alone for forty days and nights, whereupon he resists the temptations of the devil before reaching salvation in the arms of angels. Moses was said to have spent forty days alone atop Mount Sinai in order to receive the Ten Commandments from God.
Solitude has also been regarded as a virtue and a path to god amongst countless religious orders. From Tibetan Buddhist monks and Hindu hermits in India, to Christian clerics and New Age gurus, solitary behaviour has been used to reaches higher levels of spiritual communion and universal understanding.
What is Solitude?
Collins English Dictionary defines solitude as a state of being alone. But to those who practice it as a spiritual path it is a state of mind which acts as a conduit to a more meaningful relationship with the universe and the energy of all things. Far from being a lonely pursuit, at its highest level it can lead the individual to experience an intense sense of oneness with all living things.
Solitude can also act as an effective antidote to the information overload suffered by many in western societies. In minimising external influences and distractions, it can enable the consciousness to attune to its own inner voice and the harmonic frequencies of reality that are often drowned out by the clamouring white noise of television news broadcasts, frivolous soaps and advertisements that bombard us all on a daily basis.
Short periods of solitude can bring a transcendent level of clarity to the individual, and the silence it affords can help guide the mind towards its true calling and unveil the spiritual destiny of the soul. By shutting out external influences and becoming intensely aware of ones own self, it is possible to turn the mind inwards and become fully attuned to the corporeal reality of the body and the spiritual reality of the heart and the soul.
Why do we usually avoid prolonged solitude?
Most of us will go to great lengths to avoid being alone. This avoidance ranges from filling our lives with all manner of social engagements, to remaining with an abusive partner for fear of being alone. Even when we are at home alone, many of us will turn on the television regardless of whats on, for the sake of having some company. This fear of being alone is widespread, and it is often this fear itself that prevents us from knowing who we really are and understanding the true nature of our role within the universe. But what are we really afraid of?
Society tells us that we must fill our time with friendships, family, relationships and other forms of frequent human contact. From an early age we are warned against the loner and taught to fear being left on the shelf. But this inbuilt need to never be alone may have isolated us from ourselves, and resulted in us knowing lots of people at the expense of knowing who we ourselves truly are. Perhaps the ultimate form of being alone is the intense spiritual loneliness of not knowing the depths of ones own soul.
Practical solitude for modern everyday living
While the idea of living a solipsistic existence attuned to nature and the harmonies of the universe might be attractive and even possible for some, for the vast majority of us it is not a practical path to spiritual enlightenment.
Yet living as a hermit away from the masses and the trappings of modern society are not necessary to experience the spiritual benefits of solitude. Even half an hour spent each day in quiet contemplation within the confines of your own garden can bring you closer to the beating heart of the universe and your own inner self. Take time out to just sit and listen to the birds singing, notice the colours and textures of your surroundings, the subtle currents of the wind and the almost imperceptible movement of the clouds.
By making solitude a daily habit you can bring peace into your life and become better able to handle the challenges of the modern world. Use the time to get to know your own self better without the intrusive input of outside eyes and ears. In time you may come to see solitude not as a lonely experience, but as a truly spiritual time for communing with the universe and your own inner being.