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Learning solitude

Posted on 09 November 2011, 23:22

My new book, Solitude – recovering the power of alone was published last week. And whether you love solitude or struggle with it, my hope is that it will be a doorway to better things for you. I believe we’re always learning – because we’re always forgetting.

It’s written in the form of a conversation with my alter-ego and here’s a brief extract from one of the chapters to give you a feel of things. It’s a passage concerned with the learning of solitude. I hope you enjoy it:


For many of us, solitude will have to be learned because we didn’t learn it as children. We learned many things when young but not how to be happily still.

I remember being told to ‘Shut up!’ all the time but I suppose that’s different.

Certainly we didn’t experience the education described here by the Indian Chief Standing Bear:

‘Training began with children, who were taught to sit still and enjoy it. They were taught to use their organs of smell, to look where there was apparently nothing to see and to listen intently when all seemingly was quiet.’

No, that wasn’t my home.

And he concludes with this line: ‘A child who cannot sit still is a half-developed child.’

So presumably an adult who cannot sit still is a half-developed adult?

*

Maybe if I’d learned it as a child, it would all be simple. As it is, solitude feels rather complicated.

There’s nothing complicated about solitude. Just think of it as two steps.

And they are?

First there is the physical withdrawal from the world. This can pose problems, but may prove the easy part. Here we remove ourselves from the outer distractions of life – people, mobiles, screens, interruption, clocks.

OK. I’d put that under the ‘Simple but Demanding’ heading.

Second, we remove ourselves from our inner distractions, lived out in our racing and unruly mind.

And how on earth do we do that?

The best way to start is with a growing awareness of our breathing.

What does that achieve?

It stills and simplifies our lives. As we focus on our breathing, thoughts come and then go. We notice them but we do not follow them. They want us to play chase but we refuse; instead, we return to our breathing.

What’s in our breathing?

The present, untouched by our mind. In fact, why not do this now for two minutes, wherever you are? It’s a revolution of the spirit, every time it’s attempted.

What, just listen to my breathing?

Solitude is more about saying ‘no’ than saying ‘yes’.

How do you mean?

Perhaps you’re waiting to see the doctor. You could pick up one of the magazines available. But if you said ‘no’ to the magazine, you could listen instead to your breathing, gather yourself and become aware of the moment.

I suppose so.

Or perhaps you’re waiting at the bus stop. You could text someone. But if you said ‘no’ to the text, you could focus instead on some aspect of the scenery around you – a tree, a window, an old door – and allow it to become a meditation. You look at your chosen object, note it well and allow creation to speak.

Because creation is my friend.

Well remembered.

I do my best.

Or perhaps you’re waiting in a supermarket queue. You could spend your time getting frustrated, expressed in a tense body and hateful thoughts towards those ahead of you and the cashier. But if you said ‘no’ to all that, and accepted your circumstances, you could become conscious for the first time in the day. You may have been living on automatic up until that moment. Then a simple ‘no’ opens the door of awareness.

In each of these instances, you chose an active walk into inner silence.

I wasn’t expecting solitude in the supermarket.

They may only be brief experiences but sometimes solitude is brief. It’s the habit that matters not the length of each stay. Different days offer different possibilities.

We start off by carving solitude out of our day, until in time, we find ourselves carving our day out of our solitude.

Solitude by Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books and Available from Amazon and all good online books stores.

Paperback

Kindle


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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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