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October 2017 – Solitude

from Relax and Retreat, Volume 3, Part 2, in The Notebooks of Paul Brunton

PB is an advocate of solitude for the person who is ready for it. The reader recognizes the voice of one who has embraced solitude, values it, explored its depths, has found comfort in it and has gone beyond solitude. “He will find the Path leads him away from the crowd into solitude; and, later, away from the thoughts of the crowd that people solitude into himself.” (chap. 1, para #35) His praise of solitude is shown in the following quotes from chapter 5: “Solitude is the best way of life, Nature is the best company, God is the best presence. Those who are wealthy surround themselves with servants, so that they never have solitude, but always other presences, other auras around them. Privacy is the accompaniment of solitude and where there is no solitude there is no privacy.” (para #126)

He writes: “It is enough in the beginning to make these occasional excursions into the quieter and lonelier places. If they can be absolutely quiet and utterly lonely, his purpose will be best achieved.” (para #23) Indeed, he says that “In the end and perhaps after many years he finds that he cannot get away from man’s innate loneliness.” (para # 15) And he writes in para #68: “The man who is frightened by loneliness is not yet ready for philosophy.” “It is not that he shuts himself up in his own life because he has no interest in society’s but rather that the fulfilment of the purpose which, he believes, God has implanted in his being, is paramount.” (para #14) “The theory of breaking all connection with the world in order to make connection with the Eternal Spirit, is sound enough.” (para #63)

These thoughts remind us that the world has most often benefitted from the wisdom gleaned by the courageous Beings who have retreated into isolation. In para #48 PB writes:

It would be interesting to count the men of your acquaintance who are able to stand on their own solitary opinion, who refuse to be strapped down in the straitjackets of conventional public opinion. You will usually find that such men, by taste or by circumstance, are accustomed to pass somewhat lonely lives. They like to sequester themselves, they prefer to live in quiet places. If destiny grants them the choice, they choose the place of quiet mountains rather than the place of little men. Such men develop their bent for independent thought precisely because they prefer withdrawn lives. Society and company could only assist to smother their best ideas, their native originality, and so they avoid them. Thoreau, that powerful advocate for solitude, could never be intimidated by anyone.

PB, the advocate of balance, includes warnings in his sage advice. “Aloneness is good for a man, but when it is felt as too overpowering, it is not. Then the balance must be redressed by society.” (para #19) “It is a matter of temperament and circumstances whether he shall bury himself in a solitary existence or not. The inner life is always available, whether he is active or passive, for in both cases it is only as he turns toward it, retreats into it, or draws upon it.” (para #81)

The final quote in chapter 5 of Relax and Retreat is this:

Solitude may help a man immensely in his spiritual life during certain periods which may be quite long or quite short. But just as any good that is overdone becomes a gad or turns to a folly, so it is with solitude. Too much of it may cause a man to go astray and lose himself in chimeras and illusions. For if he has no other human contact he has no one with whom to check his ideas, from whom to receive constructive criticism, and by whom he may be warned about deviation from the correct path. (para #162)