Illuminating Observations about Solitude from many Wisdom Traditions
Please read through these ideas about solitude as expressed by a wide spectrum of thinkers. Many were contributed by members of our interfaith community. Which ideas delight you or draw you toward them? Consider gathering your own collection of meaningful thoughts about solitude and sending them to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The value of solitude lies in the greater possibility of attention.[Gravity and Grace]
A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are intimate, are all accessible to us. (Seeds of Contemplation, 1949]
The time will come when the pursuit of contemplation will be a subversive activity. [America is Hard to Find]
That which is most deeply personal, is most universal. [The Quiet Revolutionary]
The longest journey of any person is the journey inward.
In my picture of the world there is a vast outer realm and an equally vast inner realm, between these two stands man, facing now one and now the other.
The voices differ, the textures differ, and yet the experiential fact is exactly the same. Those who have found Pure Silence: the freedom within, are moved simply to share it.
Be quiet in your mind, quiet in your senses, and also quiet in your body. Then, when all these are quiet, don’t do anything. In that state truth will reveal itself to you. It will appear in front of you and ask,” what do you want?”
You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.
There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
[On Talking, The Prophet (1923)]
What is worth more: a crowd of thousands
or your own genuine solitude?
Power over an entire kingdom — or freedom?
A little while alone in you room will prove more valuable
than anything else that could ever be given to you.
Solitude is in the mind of a man. One might be in the thick of the world and yet maintain perfect serenity of mind: Such a person is always in solitude. Another may stay in the forest but still be unable to control his mind. He cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is an attitude of the mind; a man attached to things of life cannot get solitude, wherever he may be.
Silence is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation.
Mother Theresa was asked what she said to God when she prayed. She replied, “I don’t say anything, I just listen.” So then she was asked what God said to her. Mother Theresa responded, “He doesn’t say anything. He just listens.”
1. Speech is great, but silence is greater still. Silence is the holy temple of our divine thoughts. If speech is silver, silence is gold, if speech is human, silence is divine.
2. Silence is the best and the most unique art of conversation.
3. Silence is the best speech. If you must speak, speak the minimum. Do not speak two words, if one is enough.
4. The ego gets wiped out in the state of silence. Once this happens, who will speak and who will ponder? (all duals have disappeared).
The Tao cannot be sought from others; it is attained in oneself. If you abandon yourself to seek from others, you are far from the Tao.
Thich Nhat Hanh
That’s the Buddha’s definition of the ideal practice of solitude: not to be caught in the past or carried away by the future, but always to be here, body and mind united, aware of what is happening in the present moment. That is real solitude. [The Heart of the Matter]
You, too, may have met your hermit, or perhaps something else equally marvelous. Maybe it was a rock, a tree, a star, or a beautiful sunset. The hermit is the Buddha inside of you. [The Hermit and the Well]
Henry David Thoreau
Silence is the communing of the conscious soul with itself. [ Journal, 12/1838]
Silence is one. Words are many.
there is a monastic archetype or a contemplative dimension innate in every human being.
The new monk is … represented by all those who do not even dream of entering traditionalinstitutions, but who nevertheless are attracted by a life which could well be called monastic. [ p 47, x, 28, 1982]
When I speak of the contemplative life I do not mean the institutional, cloistered life …I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience …One might say it is the flowering of a deeper identity on an entirely different plane. [Contemplation in a World of Action]
Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose. There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.
In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
Be the change you want to see in this world.
My life is my message.
When mind is still, then truth gets her chance to be heard in the purity of the silence.
Silence is ancient. Silence has been in the space you are at this very moment for longer than anything else has. It will remain after you leave and exist long after all other things have faded. [The Silence of Winter ]
Contemplation and reflection have to accompany the active life or we are like bulls in a china shop projecting our shadows and issues out into the world.
Real action is done in moments of silence.
…you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.
Don’t forget, our vocation is to be prophets … the people of this world are divided into two kinds, prophets and organizers, and unfortunately the organizers run all the institutions. [Board Member and lifetime community activist, 2006]
The most useful among the people is he who is distant from the people. …
The strong grows in solitude where the weak withers away.
[The Spiritual Sayings of Khalil Gibran]
A hermit is one who renounces the world of fragments that he may enjoy the world wholly and without interruption. [ Sand and Foam]
You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait,
be quiet, still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked,
it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. [Senses]
Society is the cave. The way out is solitude. [The Great Beast]
..love from one being to another can only be that two solitudes come nearer, recognize and protect and comfort each other.
Half the pleasure of solitude comes from having with us a friend to whom we can say how sweet solitude is.
Rilke thought of lovers not as a union but as “two solitudes [that] protect and border and greet each other,” asserting that “all partnerships can only survive as the shoring up of two adjacent solitudes,” with each partner a solitude “that wants to move out of itself.” [Letters to a Young Poet]
Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
This is not done by jostling in the street.
How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make – leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone – we all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof – and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track. [John of the Mountain, 1938]
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind will blow their own freshness into you while cares will drop off like autumn leaves
Be attentive to the place where you stand. [in Panikkar p 69, 1982]
Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace. The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return. They grow and flourish and then return to the source. Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
Empty your boat, seeker, and you will travel more swiftly. [Dhammapada, v. 369]
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. [The Awakening]
For the total development of the human being, solitude as a means of cultivating sensitivity becomes a necessity. One has to know what it is to be alone, what it is to meditate, what it is to die; and the implications of solitude, of meditation, of death, can be known only by seeking them out.
Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.
Writing can be an occasion of prayer and contemplation. Writing is the one thing that gives me access to some real silence and solitude.
This access to silence, to solitude, that writing requires, points to a kind of emptying: a slipping out of the grip of our world’s fierce clutch of artificial respiration and letting normal breathing take over once more. Solitude is a way of restoring in us an interior space that is meant to be there. It not only liberates a writer, it opens the way for the soul’s answer to the Love that enfolds it… [Together in Solitude 1985 Crossroads p 93]
compiled by RCS, Solitude Project email@example.com