Finding the Self * Solitude, Healing and the Spiritual Life

These are difficult, even dark, times. Almost 25 years ago, I began to predict in the psychic readings of many of my clients that there were dark times visible on the distant horizon. These were visions of a future in which (I now realize) stark changes in geology and climate of Mother Earth were the dominant features of a dramatically darkened world. I saw soldiers relocating people in what seemed to be massive floods, even large pieces of land turning into islands at sea where they had been part of a mainland. There may have been new and major wars, but if so, these seemed less immediate than changes in our collective, social, geographical worlds.

Because above all, I sensed far-reaching dislocations in social mood, in our connections to one another, in our connections to the planet itself. Some of this is now upon us, in the form both of climate changes, weather violence, and in a pandemic which adds a massive layer of existential uncertainty – indeed fear – to every aspect of our lives.

Out of all of this, however, may come for many a blessing, a light in dark times. In the midst of social disconnections, we discover the gift of solitude, the recovery of a fuller selfhood, opening to creativity and growth in ways our busy, highly socialized lives could never give us.

I am not alone in suggesting that solitude may be the lemonade we can make with our lemons…

An article in LifeKit – How Solitude Can Help You Regulate Your Mood is a good starting place, pointing to research showing that time alone helps us even out in our mood, that we don’t have to go into full-blown monastic retreat to attain alone time, nor do we have to push our friends away from us. There can be an art to finding small spaces of solitude, though we may need to first overcome a (western) aversion to being alone in the first place…

Near Giza, Egypt — Camel and Rider — Image by © Larry Lee Photography/CORBIS

To begin the journey into solitude, I recommend a wonderful book by psychiatrist and philosopher Dr. Anthony Storr – Solitude: A Return to the Self (I include the link here so you can enjoy the reviews). Dr. Storr reviews all the wonderful effects of solitude, dispensing with the age-old prejudice against being alone which westerners have acquired over the centuries.

Dr. Storr takes issue with the very modern emphasis on extroversion and the need for friends and family – interpersonal relatedness – in order to achieve wholeness.  In fact, he suggests that there is another kind of wholeness, one which arises out of a larger spiritual connectedness.

And this makes a great deal of sense to me.  Let’s face it, friends and family are not always the rosy social circle self-help books make them out to be.  Friends turn out not to share our values or interests, families can be toxic, even pathological and in some cases dangerous to our physical and/or mental health. Work place relationships can be shallow, narrow and again, in some cases downright toxic.

In fact, there is a kind of tyranny imposed by groups, as so many have found in the stress of social media. Nations, religious organizations, families, friends and communities can all impose limits to our growth and self-awareness by insisting on sameness, leveling judgment on our lives, setting false criteria for the successful life, and imposing ostracism on those seeking their own path.

In solitude we begin what another great psychiatrist Carl G. Jung described as “individuation” – a process of personal expansion of the personality as we begin to separate ourselves from what we might call the “group-think” that we are limited to within groups.

And it turns out  there is a well-traveled path out of the claustrophobic, judgmental and limiting worlds we tend to be born into and seek out in our youth.  There is a much larger universe for which we yearn, to which we belong, and in which we find existential meaning which alone can heal and inspire.

As I describe in Travels With the Higher Self, as soon as we set aside time for solitude, there are stirrings within which lift us up, towards a Light.   Jung observed in all his years of practice, that no one truly healed without reconciling the opposites, or conflicts, in their life to a level above them, in other words, a spiritual leap to transcend psychological stress and trauma.

In solitude, we connect with our Higher Self, the  dimension of Mind opening out into our Soul.  This Self knows us best and can slowly guide a healing, creative, and spiritual process uniquely our own. In our alone times, inspiration and new light enter through the enlarging windows of a healing mind.

Among the benefits of solitude are those of creativity, healing from grief and trauma, rediscovery of the imagination and indeed, of one’s own personality. For in solitude, we become aware of parts of ourselves which we have suppressed, ignored, or simply misunderstood, often for years.  We find the time to let these personality fragments surface; we create space to safely explore them.

They may be creative selves, hurt selves, and even strong protective selves. Only in the quiet space of solitude can we truly identify and name these smaller selves; only in solitude can we connect, cry with, and integrate these lost parts of the self.  In the world of shamanism, this process emerges as soul retrieval.

But we don’t need to be shamans in the traditional sense to engage in the integration of all our parts into an expanding Whole.  We need only set aside as much time as we can for solitude, a Garden of Soul, and make the journey into that Garden as part of each of our days. In time, this daily devotion will lead to many changes, some in lifestyle, some in work, some in relationships. Be ready for adventure! You will be on a Silk Road journey into your wonderful, mysterious Self.


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