Light In Dark Times * The Gifts Of Solitude

One of the emerging features of modern times has been the problem of lonliness. In the time of Covid, we felt not only the effects of physical isolation, but even worse, the chill of alienation from those around us, with views sharply differing about social distancing, vaccines, and the rights of citizens.

These seem to be darkening times – whether the Shadow side of the Age of Aquarius, the Fourth Age of Kali Yuga, (as I have written elsewhere) or the rise of old, ugly ideologies thought beaten back in WW I and finally buried, in World War II.

The explosion of social media in our collective lives seems only to be deepening the fissures in society, particularly in western nations, where a coming chaos, even anarchy, can be sensed just over the horizon…

War in Ukraine, floods of refugees/migrants, genocide in Gaza, the rise of the far-right in Europe and the United States – suddenly the collapse of civil order seems less a non-western concern, and more one that confronts us here, in the no-longer secure bastion of the West.

Sometimes, we find ourselve alone through grief and loss, whether in death or in the breaking of family or other social bonds.

Yet there truly is light in such dark times.  Unique blessings are there to be found, on the road that is less traveled until circumstances force us off the main roads. It is often when our comfortable worlds are shaken that we turn inward, and there we may discover treasures long hidden. Solitude, however we come to it, is the key.

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 lays out the many liberating, healing, creative 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 – constant, defining 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 by lifting both opposites to a level which unifed them. We must achieve transcendence, moving to a level in which we can see how opposites are really part of a whole.

In solitude, we connect with our Higher Self, a unique dimension of Mind which seems to be a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious, but also a bridge 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.

© Carol Leigh Rice 2024

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