My 2012 talk on solitude at Greenbelt – Part 4

So here we are, in our final episode, thinking about the quality of our solitude because solitude is not a place but a quality.

And one way to test our solitude is to reflect on the nature of our silence. So as we listen to our silence now, what are we identifying with? Are we identifying with our sulking, our anxiety, our resentment, our desires for vengeance, our rage, distraction?

If we are, then we’re tight balls of negativity and there’s no receiving place in us.

This isn’t solitude but loneliness because it’s separating; loneliness is separating but solitude is never separating – solitude is always joining.

So if our silence is separating us from someone else, it’s not solitude – though it might become solitude as soon as this truth is acknowledged.

Our time is running out but we’re considering the quality of our solitude; what’s for it and what’s against it.

Like a flame, solitude is dependent on internal and external conditions.

It’s dependent on the way we were parented, the media, our self-image. How important is our self-image? If you don’t like yourself very much, if you’ve received the message that you’re not good enough, you are not going to want to spend time with yourself, you will not want silence.

And we’re back with Wayne Rooney’s hoover and my friend and the TV in his bedroom.

And here’s an interesting question: who kills solitude in us and who nurtures solitude in us?

You might have a friend who calms your panic inside. Lovely. Or, you might have a friend who’s afraid of solitude and who draws you into their fear: ‘Let’s go out tonight!’

It sounds a bit desperate on the phone and even as they’re saying it, you’re thinking: ‘This is more about your fear than your desire to see me.’

It’s good to consider once a year at Greenbelt: which friends are worth keeping? That’s me off a lot of lists…

We’ve reached the end, so here’s a beginning. How do I start solitude? Sometimes the beginning of solitude is simply saying ‘No’.

You don’t have to pick up a magazine at the doctors surgery. You don’t have to ogle your phone at the bus stop. You don’t have to judge others in the supermarket queue.

You can calm your itchy thoughts and hands. You can say ‘No’.

And, of course, the still small voice within is not a voice at all but silence; and it speaks with an authority, hope and intelligence that has not been learned from another but is innate in you.

We start by carving silence out of our life; and finish by carving our life out of silence.

Reflection on ideas in this talk. This where we slow down.

Solitude’s bad press. ‘It’s like loneliness, isn’t it?’…No, loneliness is being unhappily alone. Solitude is being happily alone.

A definition of solitude: A path towards the clearing of stillness and silence; and awareness of the foliage of emotion and thought that sometimes makes the path difficult…

We thought about solitude helping us towards our true identity: Finding an identity there beyond circumstance and relationships, something original, hopeful, strong. The life beneath our life, which, of course, is what gave colour to the snake.

We discovered that solitude can be found in a crowd, found in the presence of others, in job interviews, giving truth to the roles we play.

We noted the different voices inside us all determining our relationship with solitude, an inner conversation.

Finally, we reflected on the quality of our solitude, because solitude is a quality not a place. It is a path towards being happily alone, a path towards oneness with ourselves, our god and our world.

Solitude is never separating – and sometimes it starts with a simple ‘No’ in the doctor’s surgery, or at the bus stop or in the supermarket queue.

So in solitude, we’re looking to exchange tat for gold: we’re looking to exchange confusion for identity, busy for still, fear for discovery, urgent for important, machine for human, separation for union.

We start by carving silence out of our life and finish by carving our life out of silence.

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