08 June 2012

Quiet and Solitude

Twenty years ago I took the train to Chicago. In the era before cell phones I sat for the duration of the trip incommunicado. I had packed sandwiches and Oreo cookies for lunch, and except for a need for coffee, tea or softer drink, for six glorious hours I did feel it necessary to talk with another individual. In any case, I could not be reached. I was truly alone. I needed no one and no one needed me. I was unavailable. During the journey I read John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down in its entirety. I napped undisturbed. I was content.
But today I am eminently findable. The mobile phone rings and I answer it; a message is sent and I return it. I call people as if I were actually looking for myself. I feel that I have become trapped in the modern technology that was meant to liberate me. But perhaps it was never meant to free me, and I have passively succumbed to my bondage: like the prisoner of Chillon I have learned to love my chains! I have allowed myself to be entrapped by the media, and I am now not only never quite alone, but I have become reticent to ever be alone. I discover that I do not turn off the phone so much as occasionally mute it. As if I want to be found even in my solitude. And I am usually found where I sometimes do not want to be found, though I also make little or no effort to prevent my discovery.
Seneca talks about getting away from the noise and clutter of the world. He claims that noise is overrated as a deterrent to study: “For I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it. There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within, so long as fear and desire are not at loggerheads, so long as meanness and extravagance are not at odds and harassing each other.” Seneca seems to have a control over his mind that I can only envy. I find that I cannot shut out the noise unless I place myself in a location where there can be no noise. Right now and right beside me a small group of people are talking together and I cannot help but be disturbed and distracted from this writing. I cannot read in the coffee houses, nor do my writing in even the quiet of the libraries. There is too much activity all about me.
I hear that there is a place in India near Mumbai where one million people live within one square mile. The thought terrifies me. Nowhere to escape.  And so Seneca’s paean to concentration attracts me: I wish I could so easily ‘get away.’ Seneca writes, “For if we are genuine in this, if we have sounded the retreat and really turned away from the surface show, nothing will distract us. Men and birds together in full chorus will never break into our thinking when that thinking is good and has at last come to be of a sure and steady character.” Perhaps my thought is not so genuine, or that I remain distracted by the show, but I am too diverted from my focus by the world that is with me too late and soon.
And so it relieves me to discover that at the end of the essay Seneca announces that he, too, finds it necessary to get away from the noise and demands of the diurnal. At the end of Letter LVI he acknowledges that sometimes it is better to keep away from the din, and “it is the reason why I shall shortly be moving elsewhere.” Why be tortured by the temptation: even Ulysses protected his crew by stopping their ears with beeswax.  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh...my human comrade...I invite you to examine your thoughts further on the concept of quiet and solitude. Focus on detaching yourself from the frustration or whatever feelings you are having when you are in a noisy, busy environment. I have much work and study to do myself in this area!!

I often look to Eckhart Tolle for guidance as he seems to exude a great sense of focus, peace and calm wherever he is. In his book, "A New Earth," he suggests accepting whatever feeling one is having at the present moment. When one quits trying to resist the unwanted feelings (or detaches from them) a certain space may be created to transcend them. How does he do it I ask? Or Seneca for that matter? With much patience and practice I imagine. Although I do believe that it is somewhat easier to write about something and call it your truth than to live it. In other words, easier said than done!

It is my belief you are already "alone" even when in a crowded room. We all are. No one can ever truly find where we are at except for brief interludes. That is the true joy of conversing with old friends as we never know who we will get! It may be like opening a surprise gift every time. Unless of course, we are stagnant and not continually recreating ourselves.

You also "chose" to be alone on that train 20 years ago. I'm sure you were not the only passenger and could have engaged with another if you had wanted. It's called face to face communication...I think. I fear we may lose this ability one day with the onslaught of other technologies. We may even lose some present form of vocalizations.

I too lament the days when I was more unavailable. I resisted purchasing a cell phone until 2 years ago when my parents needed me more for health reasons. I was the butt of many jokes since I was still living in the "dark ages." I had my reasons and still do. Another topic for another day. Now it is turned off often but people still know I have it and ask "why didn't you call me back?" I'm not very good yet at speaking the truth with them. For me, conversations are more delicious with facial expressions added to the mix! And some of the topics I would want to speak of would cause them to avert their eyes anyway.

When I want to be found, it is not so much that I want the companionship to speak with another but that I am continually grasping for the compassionate look of understanding. You can't get that on a cell phone and I'm not yet ready to skype.

You speak of being more reticent now of being alone. That, my friend,could be due to age as I have felt more lonely (still need to work on detaching!) these past years even as I pursue the quiet and solitude yet.

I crave to be more Thoreau-like and find my own Walden Pond! Some day I may be brave enough that when I do, I will stay.

08 June, 2012 17:22  

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