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27.12.12

Fortress Of Solitude

Prospero:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

I love solitude.

I'm a bit of a recluse and perhaps a little misanthropic, at that.  Had I stayed in the monastery all those years ago, I would most likely be a hermit by now.  I went into the entertainment industry because I loved movies and plays, but I hated being in the audience.  I really don't like crowds, though one-on-one, I can tolerate people.

That sounds worse than it is.  I have good social skills and can work a room with the best of them.  All my years of stage training gave me the ability to develop personae to deal with situations I don't like.  But if I had my druthers, I'd rather be here at the mountain house alone.

I think people have lost the art of solitude.  They don't know how to be alone, sans media.  They've lost the desire for solitude as a means of re-creation and re-habilitation.  Have you ever noticed that superheroes, writers and artists all seek solitude?  They always have a place to be alone - to think, to pray, to just blank out.

I have my mountain house.  I come here to be alone whenever I can, to drink single-malt scotch, smoke Cuban cigars and write.

One of the ways I write/think was taught to me by my high school English teacher.  It's called free writing.  I just sit in front of the computer and start typing.  Doesn't matter about grammar and punctuation.  Just write everything that passes through my brain on its way to Universe.  It's amazing the ideas and thoughts that come when you do it, but it requires solitude.

I practice a form of meditation that Lao Tzu called, "quieting the tree of chattering monkeys" in my mind.

I light a cigarette and stare at the smoke.  It rises completely uniform for two or three inches, then erupts into chaos.  It's as if it was very quiet, then it had a thought, and that led to a thousand other thoughts.  And that reminds me of my own mind.

I like to watch a column of miniscule red ants emerge from a tiny hole in the cement on the porch rail.  As they do, a hornet the size of a hummingbird swoops down and grabs them one at a time and eats them.  I think of a line of cars on a highway with a 747 swooping down and eating them one by one.

I watch the butterflies, of which there are millions here - from lacewings the size of my thumbnail to giant black ones the size of a saucer.  They always seem to go in a single direction, though they loop and swirl around in a fanciful dance on the breeze.

I have a plant in the garden that grows so fast that I can watch a leaf unfurl, if I sit still for two hours or so.  I also line up the Moon at night with some fixed point and watch it move across the sky.  When you consider how big the Moon is, and how far away, you realize that you are hauling ass around this planet without feeling it...unless you are alone and quiet.

Then I think about the fact that I live on the equator, which means that I am hauling ass around the planet standing perpendicular to the orbital axis.  That's a weird feeling.

We humans don't get enough solitude.  We are so inundated and mesmerized by our society that we forget to just stop, turn it all off and watch.  It's like shooting some class IV rapids.  When you're in them, your mind is extremely focused on the next rock or wave, pausing just barely enough to look slightly beyond.  At the same time, sitting on the bank watching someone go through the rapids is a completely different experience.  Most of us choose to shoot the rapids without ever sitting on the bank to watch.  It is two perspectives of the same event, but one lets you appreciate the Big Picture, while the other gives you hardly enough time to look beyond your nose.

I really hate large groups of people.  More than 10 means that if one panics, you're likely to be killed in the stampede.  I don't like that feeling.  I don't like that large groups of people act irrationally.

Put another way, imagine that you are in a large swimming pool with a few dozen people all jumping and swimming and splashing.  Try to stand perfectly still.  You can't.  All those people are creating turbulence that buffets you and moves you around, even though you are making an effort to be still.  Then they all get out.  After a time, the water calms and eventually you can stand perfectly still and make hardly a ripple in the water.  Now stretch out your arms to the side and bring your hand together as fast as you can.  Look at the eddies and waves you make with one single movement.  Now imagine what you and all those around you are doing to the Universe around you.

I've been in solitude for 24 hours now.  I haven't spoken a single word in that time and have made as few movements as I can.  I laid out in the grass and watched the sky.  I went out in the rain and felt it hit me like icy needles.  I sat on the porch for hours and watched and listened.  I made a loud noise and listened to the guitar across the room resonate in harmony without touching it.  I isolated some vibrations that I really like and grokked them as fully as I could.

And I sought out the vibrations of people I love and harmonized with them.

I love solitude.

There's a reason that aesthetics have sought the most barren and isolated places on Earth for millennia.  They are trying to limit the number of vibrations around them so that they can first understand them fully, and then learn to control them.

There's a reason why thinkers and artists seek solitude.  They need to limit the amount of information coming at them as much as possible in order to focus on particular ones.  superman had the fortress of solitude.  Batman had the Batcave.  Every real writer has a writing shack.  Every inventor has a lab or workshop.  Every person who actively participates in the creative process needs solitude.

Some people are terrified of it.  I don't know why, but they are afraid to be alone.  The idea of doing nothing scares the hell out of them.  I've seen people go nuts with it.  I've witnessed them lose their identify because no one was there to witness it.  I know people for whom a day without speaking is a nightmare.  I don't understand it.

I love solitude.

The monastery where I lived is located in the Chama river canyon in northwest New Mexico.  Just south of the monastery, the Paloma river canyon forms a nearly 90-degree angle from the west.  At the confluence of the rivers, there is an island covered in aspen trees and wild asparagus.  On one precise September evening, the Chama canyon is already dark by 5pm.  By 6pm, the Sun sets precisely down the Paloma canyon, causing an amazing shaft of light to beam out of the canyon and light up a the aspens with their gold leaves and silver bark.  There, in the middle of the inky darkness, is a fire that does not consume its host.  And on the opposite wall of the canyon were the shadows of trees a thousand feet tall.  It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed, and it lasts precisely 10 minutes...and then it's gone until next year.  And I have only seen it once over 30 years ago.

If I had not been in solitude, sitting and waiting for nothing, facing just the right direction, I would not have seen this amazing thing.  And being in solitude, and in the right frame of mind, I was able to burn that scene into my mind so that even now, in the quiet of the mountains, I can close my eyes and see it perfectly, reliving every single sencond of it as if I were sitting in that canyon so long ago and far away.

    Solitude is a gift and it should never be wasted or reviled.  It is a time when the most beautiful things happen and we have the time to sit and absorb them.  It is the time when the mud settles and the water becomes perfectly clear for a moment.  It is a time when you can actually feel other life.

And that reminds me of one other story.  While I was at the monastery, I made a retreat to do a 'spirit circle'.  A spirit circle was practiced by certain native American people.  It involves going out into the wilderness and clearing a circle about 10 feet across.  You strip naked and enter the circle with nothing...no clothes, no food, no water.  You sit in the center as still as you can.  When you have to move around, you can not step outside the circle.

The amazing thing?  After about half a day, you can feel things enter your circle.  I could feel insects moving around me.  The second night, I was nearly asleep when a bob cat entered.  I felt it like a slap on my right shoulder, and when I turned, we were eye to eye, not moving.  He eventurally walked away.  Deer came up and rubbed their heads on me without fear.  I could sense the dew and turned my head up to drink it.  It was the most amazing sense of oneness I have ever had, and one I have longed for ever since.

Every human being should practice solitude.  In fact, I'm convinced that most of what's wrong with society is the lack of solitude, or even desire for it.  One is never so connected to humanity than when one is truly alone.  The creative force explodes with energy when we limit the outside influences and dive into solitude like a vast pool of clear, still water.

I love solitude.

Just now, I took a break to go out in the back garden and play with the plants.  By chance, I rubbed the tomato and rosemary bushes with the same hand, then paused to smell my hand.  It's intoxicating.

I love solitude...until the neighbor shows up with off-key karaoke at the crack of dawn.