What would happen to the hatred and violence in this world if everyone experienced solitude? How could solitude create a world of peace?
Suddenly, one day each person awakens alone in her/his own world. Everyone is still there but cannot see each other; each person sees her or his imagined world. Maybe individuals are so used to being around each other they forget the peace and benefits that come with being alone. Also, they forget the joy of having company, tolerating, and learning from other cultures, due to being around people every day. Conflict resulting in hatred and violence can come from people having lack of tolerance for those who are dissimilar, who do not share their political opinions, religious beliefs, or nonbeliefs, etc. Possibly, solitude can help see through and around this, creating more tolerance.
When I go for a solo hike or meditate, it is to journey away from the crowd, relieve my busy mind, and connect with myself, nature, reflect and find the peace I lose from living in a busy society. With me, I take the thoughts and concerns of society, and they eventually fade away; sometimes they return, sometimes they don’t. This is not to say I despise living around others. I love, appreciate, and benefit from the company I am around. If anything, solitude helps me appreciate the company I have while enjoying the peace it brings.
I have read books written by Thich Nhat Hanh, who focuses on Buddhism, Zen, and the emotions that drive people through their daily lives, those they cannot always control, those they can control, but choose not to, and the stress people have from living in a busy society of various ideas and behavior.
Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames:
“You have to be alone in order to fully appreciate the other person’s presence. If you are always together, then you may begin to take him or her for granted, forgetting to enjoy the person’s beauty and goodness” (Nhat Hanh 97).
Have people forgotten the goodness humans have the potential for? When with others, even friends and loved ones, a person will be focused on what the other person is saying at the moment, and perhaps why the person is saying this. I think this is a great quality; however, the person does not pause to think, “I am fortunate to know this person, to have someone listen to what I have to say, to have someone share his/her opinion with me…” Sometimes it is not until later, I realize how much I appreciate such interactions and conversations with others. Maybe my mind is too busy at the moment processing the person’s or peoples’ information to truly take to heart the perosn’s presence.
I knew someone who would treat me with interesting conversations on philosophy and health. Though I enjoyed these conversations, it was not until later and when alone hiking on a trail one day, the conversations with this person surfaced and made me appreciate this person more. My grandfather could carry on a conversation for hours about history and science. I appreciated these, but not as much as I have thought about them when alone.
There are people who have perhaps upset someone and left an unhealthy thought floating this person’s mind. When alone, the negative tension from the conflict could become clearer. Reasoning will kick in, questions will surface: Was that conflict necessary? Why do I have such negative feelings for those people? Maybe the conflict seems silly now that the person has a chance to be in solitude and meditate on it. So, does the person appreciate the anxiety brought on by such conflict? Imagine, escaping into solitude for a day, or for a few hours of the day, rids of any anxiety and hate developed from a conflict, and controls unwanted actions that could escalate the conflict. When in heated battles, most people do not have time to process information quickly enough, and they act before thinking. Like a disease, hatred builds inside of people, growing every day they watch the news, pay attention to social media, deal with conflicts at work and other places. Perhaps this is due to not being alone enough to reflect on personal thoughts and to reflect on the situation with a clearer mind.
I thought I appreciated the company of my grandparents and my mother until they were gone, then I truly understood how beautiful and loving they were. This is a bit different than escaping to solitude every now and then to truly embrace the company of others. Maybe it is when others are simply not present the gratitude and goodness of others surfaces.
I think I somewhat struggle with understanding the quote above by Nhat Hanh, considering recent events, or rather events of violence that have occurred for years: war, rape, racism, bigotry, domestic violence, murder, bullying,… How could solitude bring peace to prevent these? If each person could separate her or himself from everyone else, would peace, the patience and effort to understand others, and to tolerate others be encouraged? Well, if solitude became routine, then people would expect it, and they would plan for it like a vacation…Nonetheless, they would still have the solitude. Also, the fictional idea of disappearing from everyone else as a routine would seem more forced than a person’s choice. Whether it is leaving society and being alone, or to always be around others, should be an individual choice, of course. But this is another topic. What benefits could solitude bring?
The idea of being alone can be read in literature and watched on film. In Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild, the protagonist leaves society to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness. He finds peace, he finds horror, and he finds himself. The quote below from Chris McCandless is interesting compared to the idea of using solitude to bring clarity to people.
“Happiness is only real when shared” (Chris McCandless).
Everyone will have and has their idea of what Chris means with these words. He seems to think happiness is only real when living with others, or happiness is real when living a life similar to others (two different ideas here, I know). Nonetheless, Chris finds this in his heart after living in solitude for 114 days. Always being alone would defeat the purpose of using one of the gifts from being alone, which is to fully understand and recognize the goodness and beauty in others. Chris may have found this during his survival alone.
An example of solitude could be one escaping on a backpacking trip. This has helped me reflect on myself and on my interactions with others. Then the cycle resets again. There are those who want to be alone all of the time, and those who find being alone boring, therefore, need company all of the time. There is also one who feels alone despite being around people, but the news is almost always in his or her reach. Not that staying up to date with current events is a bad thing; it is great for playing trivia, and of course, it is good to be informed about the world around people. Solitude could create a clearer reflection on this.
Some additional thoughts on resolving hatred and violence. I have learned love is a powerful tool and that it can be taken for granted. Even when the people we love slip away, the love remains. Finding empathy in others is a method of understanding and finding oneself in someone. This creates trust and bonds. Having time alone to reflect on others is possibly a remedy to finding this empathy.
It may be true, if we do not accept others, we cannot accept ourselves, and vice versa. Being alone from time-to-time can possibly bring more understanding and respect for ourselves, which can raise appreciation for people around us. Nhat Hanh also says in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, “Our enemy is not the other person. Our enemy is the violence, ignorance, and injustice in us and in the other person” (Nhat Hanh 128). This claim like all claims can be debatable.
Hạnh, N. (2002). Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. New York: Riverhead Books
Krakauer, Jon. Into the wild. Anchor Books, 2007.