Of solitude - C.K.Mathew, C.S. Rajasthan

What one does with one’s solitude is as good a measure of a man, or a woman for that matter, as anything else. Of course, we can judge the character of people with reference to their work ethics, their patriotism, their personal conduct, the respect they show to others, the manner in which they treat their women or old people, their concern for the environment and so on. But here I am considering the question of how we deal with solitude, our aloneness. Mark my words; we are not talking of loneliness, for that is another animal altogether. Loneliness can lead you or me to commit any manner of crime or, internally take you to a hellish place that bears no description. It is “an alienation that may thrive in the midst of crowds”. It can twist your personality and make you ill or separate you from the bountiful rewards of a human and gregarious existence. As John Donne put it:
No man is an island
entire of itself,
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.

Loneliness separates you from the humanity around and within you, while solitude strengthens the soul within and makes you stronger than you were. That is why there is no curse greater than a lonely man.

But I digress. We are considering the virtues of solitude, that precious time we spend away from others, away from the press and throng of life. It is healthy and necessary for each of us to put away some time for ourselves, where we are alone with our thoughts, when our actions and words are replayed in the depths of our mind, when we assess whether what we said or did was right or wrong, whether in the doing and saying of it we hurt someone, or showed lack of respect for a colleague or a junior, or whether we moved forwards or backwards. As KT Jong once put it:

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.

And is there a better way to find the secrets of the universe, that when we are alone with our thoughts? It was Mother Theresa who put it so well:

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Recently, in the middle of the summer heat, my wife left me, for Bangalore, to find, as she said, more amiable companionship than I can give her; in other words to be with our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. Apparently, or so she says, they care more for her, than I possibly do, with my interminable work and late hours. Well, that is a long standing debate between her and me, but I shall let that pass! Anyway, for the last two weeks—and until today evening when she gets back-- I find I have had more time to myself, more than I may have otherwise had with her cheerful chatter and loving presence, more hours and minutes to ponder on life in general.

So what does one do when there is Time enough on one’s hands, when the whirr of the fan overhead or the hiss of the cold from the air conditioner is all that you can hear, though the rumble and clatter of the myriad thoughts that fill your soul is enough to carry you away on a swelling tide of reflection and contemplation. There are enough choices before us and let us count them one by one.

I could, for example, spend the hours stupidly staring at the tv while surfing the channels or flip carelessly through magazines and newspapers. Or I could ring up friends and talk long about this and that, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. Or get invited to a late night party and allow the time to fly away with music and good food. Or get back to my files and papers, that never end anyway, and burn the midnight oil so that the wheels of governance may turn better. Or turn philosopher and sit out in the garden and look up at the night sky and think of the grandeur of the skies overhead and the miniscule role you have to play in the grand scheme of things. Or write, as I do now, my new blog article that you shall soon be reading.

Albert Camus said it well: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion." So did Thoreau: “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

Whatever it is that we do with our ‘alone’ time, it certainly defines us. It was When we are not burdened by any of our pressing social or official responsibilities, when we have the time to stare into the well of silence within us, and hear the echoes that rebound back into our inner ears, then we do get a measure of what and who we really and truly are. Said Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”

So look for those precious moments when you can be truly alone with your thoughts and open up your mind to all that is around you, and within you. At least for a few minutes each day, flee from the noise and the clatter of everyday life. Understand the nature of what or who we are. And humble yourself to the point when you can comprehend who you are and what your true place is in the swarming, teeming multitude of humanity around us. Be uniquely yourself even as you know that are part of the great human race.
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