The Joy of Solitude
What a topsy-turvy world we live in – forever in a state of flux. Science tells us that at its deepest, most-minute level, the materiality and solidity of the world disappears into a boiling ocean of boundless energy beyond comprehension.
Life is a turmoil of unpredictable change and vanishing certainty. One moment something delightful happens and the next something dreadful – it’s a roller-coaster. No wonder we are constantly taken by surprise and our carefully prepared plans get scuppered so often. “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans,” goes an old Yiddish saying, repeated by many comedians. The world is certainly uncertain, firmly insecure, reliably undependable, and can suddenly spring surprises on us. The Irish poet, Louis MacNeice, invented a new word, “suddener” for it. He wrote, “World is suddener than we fancy it…”1 Aren’t we bound to be disappointed if we count on finding something lasting and permanent in it?
Who would have guessed what the current year would bring: locked down at home with our closest ones, our daily pattern of life jumbled up. Who is not bemused by the suddenness, the unexpectedness of it all? We find ourselves without work, school or satsang, and helpless to effect any change to our situation.
We have been frequently warned that such events are bound to knock us sideways from time to time. The mystics have been telling us about the capricious nature of this material world for ages. Kabir called it “the City of the Dead” where everything eventually meets its demise. Great Master wrote, “There has never been peace here, nor will there ever be. Problems of today give place to problems of tomorrow. In a place where mind and matter are active, there can never be peace.”2
We continue to imagine that the world can be put right by well-intended actions, and we overlook all of the previous attempts to cure the world’s ills. Such efforts very often lead to disappointment, desperation, or loneliness. For little do we realize that the world continues to fulfill its role as a stage where debtors and creditors meet and settle their scores and is not designed to satisfy our dreams of perfection. Meanwhile, our attitude and response to events in the world shape us and leave their mark on us.
In Soami Ji’s words, “You have come into the world and entangled yourself in an intricate web of attachments.”3
The world is impermanent and illusory, offering nothing tangible for us to cling on to. The more we try, the more the carpet is pulled from under us – very unsettling! This feeling of impotence and separation from permanent reality is the root cause of our suffering.
Long ago the Buddha expounded on the impermanence of all created things which are not worth delighting in, not worth approval, and not worth clinging to. The Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, commented, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent, when they are not.”4
Therefore, dissatisfaction with the way of the world leads to frustration and impotence, but realizing the world is imperfect and impermanent is the beginning of wisdom. Moments of such insight can occur at any time. As one small example, William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair ends with, “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire, or, having it, is satisfied?” Quite so! It is widely accepted that happiness is a very fugitive quality in this world. Chase it and it slips through our fingers.
Maharaj Charan Singh Ji sympathizes with our plight and the loneliness we feel in an impermanent world, like being strangers in a strange land. In answer after answer to disciples’ questions, he explains in very compassionate terms how that feeling of loneliness is a natural consequence of the soul’s exile from its true home:
That loneliness cannot leave you. It’s the yearning of the soul to become one with the Father. You cannot overcome that loneliness…. It is a natural instinct of the soul towards its own source … In spite of everything that you need in this world, that feeling of loneliness does not leave, and will not leave us unless the soul merges back into its source. That is the divine law.5
Feelings of loneliness do automatically creep over our mind when we seriously take to bhajan. It indicates the natural inclination of the soul towards its original home and its innate disgust with the world.6
Please do not worry if you are lonely in this life. You should look upon this feeling of loneliness as a blessing. In fact we are all lonely in this world.… Please take advantage of this blessed feeling and turn to him who never leaves us.7
The feeling of loneliness and depression that we sometimes feel is due to the natural inclination of the soul towards its home. You may give to your mind whatsoever it desires and try to satisfy its habit of flitting from one pretty object to another, but there comes a moment when you feel that all this world is nothing but a mirage and there is no one in the world that you can call your own. In such moments of depression and loneliness, if a person studies the situation rightly and, taking advantage of these moments (which come very rarely in one's life), puts his soul on the path of devotion to God, he reaches his goal and attains his true object in life. But if, instead, he turns to the world to get rid of his loneliness and depression, he makes a further mess of his life. He loses the precious opportunity of human life that God had given him to enable him to return to his home, where peace and bliss reign supreme.8
The solution is for us to devote time and effort in finding our way back to our real selves in the way that the mystics have explained. These days have presented us with a golden opportunity to do just that.
Soami Ji wrote:
Get busy with your own real work;
Do not get caught up in other people’s affairs.9
Sound advice as always! The question arises, what do we consider to be our real business? Is it to take on affairs of the world and become exhausted and frustrated? Or is it to bring relief to our embattled soul, the most intimate part of our being and do something for ourselves? Hazur has already explained that the urge to return home is already there. We will find our source by exploring the silence and solitude within ourselves where all answers lie.
This is the issue we need to resolve, so how do we go about it? Our present circumstances may help us out there – and turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
We have time on our hands, and many of us are cut off from normal activities. Why not use the time to our advantage? The world is quieter than usual – there are fewer callers and distractions and less travelling to do and more silence and solitude – which normally we don’t appreciate in full.
The 17th century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity's problems come from one thing, … not knowing how to sit quietly in a room alone.”10 In addition to solitude, we have a general fear of silence and regard it as something that has to be broken, something negative – an absence.
We should take full advantage of the precious gifts of solitude and silence for they are golden. Otherwise, how and when will we have a better opportunity to explore the hidden depths of our being, discover our real selves in that still point of the turning world, and reach the inner treasure promised by our compassionate Master?
The time is ripe. We should look after ourselves in a responsible manner – it’s all we have. What is our greatest need? It is to find ourselves and discover that we are indeed a spark of a far greater reality. To reach it we need to enter a self-imposed confinement – our own monastery.
Hazur answered a question about entering a monastery as follows:
Your body is a monastery in which you have to live. You cannot find a better temple, a better monastery than your own self, your own body…You are already living in a monastery where nobody can harm you, nobody can reach you, where you can save yourself from the senses and all the enemies of the world who are pulling you in different directions.11
By entering there, may we find the permanence we have always been searching for!
- “Snow”, Louis MacNeice, Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, p. 23
- Spiritual Gems, Letter 148, p. 253
- Sar Bachan Poetry, Bachan 15, Shabd 7, p. 139
- The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Publications, 2012; p64
- Spiritual Perspectives, vol. 1, pp. 31, 349
- Divine Light, letter 143, p. 230
- Ibid, letter 166, p.245
- Ibid, letter 185, p. 255
- Sar Bachan Poetry, Bachan 19, Shabd 18, p. 219
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées 136, Penguin UK, 1966, 1995.
- Spiritual Perspectives, vol. 3, p. 170