Paradox of Solitude

Our great fear is not submersion by the mass, but isolation from the herd. The paradox is, we want to be alone, and also with friends. When we are alone we want to be with others, and when we are with others, we want to be alone. The mind wishes the monologue to end, and yet, not to end. We yearn for silence, and also fear silence. We want to be alone, but we don’t want to go to the Himalayas to be alone. Can one avoid inner storms? Can one avoid ‘crowd’ of the mind? Are we losing the capacity to be alone?
“We yearn for silence, yet the less sound there is, the more our thoughts deafen us.” Writes Tim Parks in one of his novels, there is a person who flees in ‘search of silence’ to the Alps. There, he finds the “wind moaning on the rock face, his blood beating in his ears.” In the valley of silence, there is no family, no colleague, no media; only his thoughts chatter ever more loudly in his head. How can I quieten the noise within, Parks asks. It is true, during solitude one gets time for introspection. Solitude cultivates the ability to stand back and observe life dispassionately. A mother’s lap is an ideal place to be alone; one is alone, yet not lonely.
The perception of sound is a state of the mind. At times, despite too much noise, we don’t notice it. When a book is good, the drone of a distant lawnmower is just not there. When the book is bad, but we must read it for an exam, the sound assaults us ferociously. More than the acoustics, it is the experience of the sound that matters more. The noise (such as anxious thoughts) that our head carries torments us. A ‘mental silence’ is what we look for, but find difficult to achieve.
Complete destruction of consciousness gives rise to complete silence. Obviously, no one would wish to achieve that. It is true that noise disturbs inner silence. It is also true that in the absence of outer noise, our inner noises remain. As we know, our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present. To calm inner noises, we often take the help of ‘outer noises’ such as listening to good music or reading a good book.
The quieter one becomes, the more one can hear. Sri Aurobindo said, “There is nothing mind can do that cannot be better done in the mind’s immobility and thought-free stillness. When mind is still, then truth gets her chance to be heard in the purity of the silence.” But it is not easy to keep the mind quiet. My mind wanders all the time. My external world constantly tries to intrude into my consciousness. How can I keep my mind still? I may run away to the Himalayas or the Alps to get rid of the noise, but can I run away from my mental turmoil. Don’t I carry it along with me wherever I go?

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