The Solitude Project
An Experiment in the Ecology of SolitudeKeywords: eco-solitude, voluntary simplicity, sociology of solitude, psychology of solitude, ecology of solitude, nature solitude, heuristic research, spiritual solitude, phenomenology of solitude, quest, contemplation action, solitude community society
IN SOLITUDE, many people experience the most serene and deeply profound moments of their lives, often when alone.
Solitude has been a wellspring of great insights throughout human existence. Buddha under the Bodhi tree, Jesus in the wilderness, Muhammad’s yearly withdrawal to the cave at Hera – these experiences-in-the-quiet are a foundation and common ground for the world’s great spiritual traditions.
Solitude is a state of awareness most people are able to experience, if only for a few fleeting moments. As individuals, we vary greatly in our natural preferences and capacities for solitude and community.
When we try to find a balance between our inner contemplative nature and our social concerns, we encounter an ageless puzzle. Thomas Merton called it the Contemplative Dilemma. It is often felt acutely by those of us dedicated to interfaith and other community work which can span from family to global. Since nature is also part of our greater community, this balancing becomes an experiment in the ecology of solitude.
The Solitude Project is a quest to make solitude a significant part of life while maintaining a meaningful relationship to community. It is an ongoing real-life experiment, encouraged by those in our interfaith community who understand the practical significance of such work. It is a work in progress.
The Project’s objective on this website is to encourage both the exploration of solitude and the seeking of balance between our outer and inner “good work”.
● Section 1: THE ECOLOGY OF SOLITUDE
Here you can plunge right in. You can discover which kinds of solitude you experience, and how you balance solitude and community. You can join activists to save the last places of natural quietness.
● Section 2: A QUEST FOR SOLITUDE
Visit a fellow traveler on this quest.
● Section 3: CONTINUING THE QUEST
Learn how solitude contributes to community. Discover resources to fuel the next stage of your own quest. Contribute your own experiences and questions.
You are invited to enter each of the three sections in any order:
Section 1: The Ecology of Solitude
Ecology is all about the interrelatedness of human and natural communities. You experience solitude within your own ecology of communities, from nearby to planetary, from family to global.
No one except you can directly explore your solitude. You are the one who will work out the details of finding the right balance between your inner nature and your outer concerns. This is important “hands-on” work. Please consider whether this is the right time or place for you to do this exploring.
Here you will discover for yourself the types of solitude you experience and how you balance solitude with community – the ecology of your solitude.
These are opportunities to help save the quiet natural surroundings that promote solitude.
How Solitude Contributes to Society
Many people find that, in a state of solitude, they are able to contribute to society in ways they could not do otherwise. Hopefully this website is an example of a contribution to the greater community.
Solitude, at its best, is not oriented toward escaping the world. Deliberately choosing to disengage from ordinary social interactions, however, can allow for a different kind of participation in the community.
Certain “solitary professions” require the conditions and attentiveness possible in a state of solitude.
The solitude state of awareness provides some people with a heightened ability to:
● enter a certain kind of attentiveness that is difficult to achieve when distracted by the presence of other people,
● use certain tools and practices,
● pass through “a door that opens within”, permitting deep introspection,
● develop a fresh look that offers a perspective on many aspects of the world.Drawn from the extensive research of John D. Barbour, 2004
Section 2: A Quest for Solitude
Exploring solitude became the quest of a member of the MCWRET interfaith community whose lifetime professional career had been working with groups – academic, corporate and local – as a professor and consultant. An unexpected heart attack at fifty-three helped produce the spark that led to this quest.
The challenge of this Project is to do this exploration in a metropolitan setting rather than in isolation, in the midst of everyday suburban life rather than once a week or going on retreat or moving away.
The writings in this section provide a window into one person’s experience of exploring solitude, an example of an individual on a personal quest. An individual’s story of a quest is never just their story; it is universal.
Previously, a few of these writings were privately circulated simply to share with a few close people to let them know what was going on. Drawing attention to the project and circulating the writings more widely felt contrary to the spirit of the Solitude Project, much less giving lectures and workshops about it.
The internet, however, changed the equation and it became possible to contribute to individuals in communities around the globe. The hope is to encourage others to explore solitude on their own and to seek balance with their own communities.
In this section of the Solitude Project you will find several short writings that have grown from this project. These writings are shared here in the spirit of someone on a personal quest. Thoreau reminds us that we are all river travelers, finding our own ways. Carl Rogers tells us, “What is most deeply personal, is also most universal.”
In these writings you will hear the subjective voice of solitude, and hopefully an encouragement to continue with your own quest.
The first set of these articles tell how the Solitude Project began in a time of desperation and ambiguity. The setting and place of the story are described here along with a glimpse of a first personal experience of solitude.
● Listening to the River tells the story of the birth of the Solitude Project.
● The Life of a Babbling Brook takes place in the natural setting of the Project.
● The Velvet Garden relates the first experience of solitude.
Additional writings will be placed here periodically.
Section 3: Continuing the Quest
This section provides a number of ways to explore solitude in particular religious, ethical or cultural traditions:
● Wisdom about Solitude: Thirty wise people, from a wide range of traditions and paths, share their observations and insights about solitude and community.
● Tools and Practices for exploring Here are possibilities for the exploration of solitude including solitude practices and internet research ideas.
Contributing your Discoveries
You are invited to contribute to this ongoing project by using our email link: firstname.lastname@example.org
● contribute quotations, resources, and ideas about solitude
● provide information about how solitude is understood and practiced in your spiritual tradition