My brother-in-law, Norm, is an email subscriber to Older Eyes.    He frequently sends me his review as a single emoticon without comment … there’s a happy face, a thoughtful face, and a head-scratcher when I get, as he says, Really Deep.   It’s a New Year and time for a Smiley hesitating – what to do now? .

I read several daily meditation books in the morning,  opening them at random to a page, hoping to encourage synchronicity to make an appearance.   The day before yesterday, I opened to a page in Dr. Bernie Siegel’s 365 Prescriptions for the Soul, Rx number 122, which talked about the importance of knowing yourself, recommending time alone as the best way to do that.   Yesterday, my random page in David Kundtz’ Quiet Mind, titled Sitting Still, considered what we could infer about a person who was comfortable sitting alone in a room, doing nothing.  He suggests that such a person has  found peace with himself, faced his fears, has perspective and priorities, and has learned to like his own company, dark side and all.   I maintain a list of possible posts on my Blackberry and Solitude has been there for a long time.    I guess its time has come.

In my post, Inward, I suggested that solitude is a necessary condition for an Inward Life, the process of knowing yourself to which Dr. Seigel refers.    According to, Solitude emphasizes the quality of being or feeling lonely and deserted and gives loneliness as a synonym.   On the other hand, Psychology Today says that Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation.    Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.     What I’m talking about here is choosing to be alone, regardless of whether it makes us lonely or not …  and not only choosing to be alone, but to be without distractions.    In a comment to my post, my friend Truck suggested that solitude isn’t always or even often associated with “willingness … to look at oneself” and that Ted Kaczynski spent a lot of time alone.    He’s right … as we scientists say, solitude is a necessary condition for knowing yourself but not a sufficient one.    Gaining insight requires more than solitude.   There must be a willingness to feel whatever comes … loneliness … joy … fear… without distracting ourselves with protective thoughts; and a willingness to let our thoughts go where they will regardless of how they make us feel.

And there’s more.    The path to self-awareness can be difficult.   We require a variety of companions.    We need people of like mind with whom we can compare and validate our insights, since even if we’re not Ted Kaczynski, we’re subject to self-aggrandizement and self-delusion.    We need loved ones who will stand by us as we travel, even if they don’t understand our journey.    We may need a psychological framework for understanding what we find … self-help books may suffice but a good therapist can be a Godsend.    And a spiritual or moral framework can’t hurt.    I’ve been very fortunate on all counts.    And what’s the big brass ring for my efforts?   For me it has been the depth that finding myself has brought to my relationships with those who’ve stayed by my side through the process, whether they understand or not.   Besides, now I can sit in a room by myself, doing nothing.

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