“Being alone is not about geography, but about walking away from the thoughts that crowd our mind.”
~J. Sumitta Hudson
By Joshua Sumitta Hudson
The holidays, we are told, are times for family. It is a time for family and friends to come together and share of themselves. It is a time where we can renew our connections with others.
It is a predominate theory that the reason human beings have large brains—brains that use about 20% of our energy output—is because we are hyper-social creatures. We do not have claws, fur, and animal strength: what we have is our communal power.
It is therefore always interesting to me when Buddhists misunderstand the power of solitude in their practice. So many suttas mention solitude and the power of solitary practice. For Example:
“Renouncing violence for all living beings,
harming not even a one, you would not wish for offspring,
so how a companion?
Wander alone like a rhinoceros.
For a sociable person there are allurements;
on the heels of allurement, this pain. Seeing allurement’s drawback,
wander alone like a rhinoceros.”
~~KhaggavisanaSutta: A Rhinoceros
I could continue sutta after sutta where solitude is lauded and the impulse to have company seems to be a detractor to our application of Buddhism.
But we are social creatures. Our survival relies on our ability to live with one another.Our emotions, our attitudes, our delusions and realizations are based in our relationships with others. Whether we are lay people, living in communities as householders; or monks, living in monasteries—we cannot survive alone.
The sangha itself is a community that supports our other Dhamma-followers and our monks.
So what is the solitude that the Buddha says that we need? We need the solitude of practice. We need the time alone to quiet our minds so that we can see the delusions,analyze our aversions and liberate our cravings. However, in the end we must rejoin the world and use that new understanding to engage with the world and apply our Buddhist mind.
After Jesus left his 40 days in the desert, after Mohammed went to the mountain, and after Buddha went to the bodhi tree, they returned to the world. They did not leave the world and stay there,but they took the time to be apart and see what is true.
Everything we accept as true is trained and conditioned from the outside. It is how the delusions of samsara works. Every belief we have was given to us from our parents, our ignorance; and from our fear, greed, hatred, and delusions. It is only by removing ourselves from those external factors can we see clearly and reorient our compasses to see the world correctly can we understand the truth.
One of those truths is that we are all interconnected, and we are all dependent on each other. We must embrace this and the world around us, because to hold close the world is to ourselves close. We are part of the universe, and the universe is within us.
Too many of us mistake a call to solitude as a mandate for loneliness, and nothing could be farther from the truth. As we practice to liberate ourselves from grasping, we can learn to gently and lightly hold the gifts that are given to us.
Take the time for seclusion, but not at the expense of exclusion. There is a reason why the Buddha asked us to take refuge in the triple gem, and why one of those refuges is with others.
So this holiday season, when we see our friends and family; rejoice in all the connections we have made with others. Open the door to your heart by swinging wide your arms ready to embrace and be amazed how many people walk in to sit next to you by the burning hearth that is your heart.