Keep it to yourself, it’s my life: On solitude, simplicity and trust in yourself
(A rough draft. I don’t usually release any writing that has not been proof-read at least a few times. Even though I rarely edit, I still like to look it over, and more than once. But for now, this one is an exception. Forebear the typos and other errors, my friends.)
“I’m so sick and tired, and sad of all these lies…
So it’s off with the ties, no compromise
Gonna taste what it’s like to be free….
Let’s get one thing straight
I’ll choose my fate
It’s got nothin’ to do with you”
There could be almost innumerable quotes and references to bring to bear in making these points; but let us hope that a little logic and reason will suffice. If they do not, then the control complex is deeply set, and words will not avail.
“Now I don’t care if some people stare
Accuse me of going bad
Just take a long hard look, into the mirror
Then, tell me know, who’s been had”
As Jesus said, and there are no better places to go to advice – he being the Buddha of the West (my sincere apologies to the fundamentalists for your bruised ideology and dogma): “Take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the splinter out of your neighbour’s eye.” How much more clearly can it be said? If we can not hear that, then we really have no ears to hear, and no eyes, as well, to see.
Thoreau once wrote, “I have never found a companion as companionable as solitude.” There is a richness to the silence of solitude, which the chronicaly busy never find, and never guess is present, and always avalable. There is infinite richness within us, and all around us, at all times, yet we live as paupers, forever seeking more, forever lost in poverty consciousness and a sense of lack. Nothing is ever enough. We seek more, or better, or different things, but we are always looking for something, always chasing after this or that, never slowing down, never daring to look within, and never slowing down enough to be able to look within.
IN this way, the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau also said, and they entirely miss the inner richness they already possess. In fact, as a line from my favorite movie says, “Millions of ordinary people….. living out their lives, oblivious.” The first step is to slow down enough to be able to think, or to stop thinking, for at least a little while. We need both silence and stillness on the one hand, in order to learn how to truly see, and on the other hand, this needs to be alternated with thought and reflection. The great majority of people at present live as though they cannot be still, they refuse to think or to reflect, and when they do look for quiet time, it is spent in front of the TV or internet, filling their minds with what is mainly white noise or pure garbage. In other words, neither stillness nor thought ever really occur.
The second thing that needs to be done if people are to begin to find their own inner riches, is to stop following the herd. The herd is lost. And in that vein, for that reason, we need to learn how to be our own counsel, how to trust in our inner guidance, and how to walk alone, when and if it is best to do so, as it so often is. We need to stop blindly trusting the herd so much, and start trusting ourselves more.
Again, Thoreau has brilliant and witty words to say on the subject. “If I knew someone was coming to do me some good, I should like to get as far away as possible.” Usually when someone is trying to do us some good, they are trying to tell us how to live, and considering that the bleating herd is completely lost and bewildered, we might just want to get far away from such non-sense and blather, or at least tune it out. Listen with respectfulness and an open mind, then decide for yourself – this applies to everything. And remember that the flock is more likely to lead you off a cliff than into green and pleasant meadows. Think for yourself.
Or as BIlly Joel put it,
“I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life
Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone…
Keep it to yourself, it’s my life.”
If our culture had more wisdom, we’d probably all be asleep by 10 at night, making exceptions for an occasional fiesta or night out; wake up at four, and spend two or three hours in the quietest part of the day in quiet reflection, prayer or meditation; then take a light, healthy breakfast and start our day; eat our big meal of the day at noon, so we will have fully digested our food long before going to bed; have a light meal for supper; and take a siesta in between, in the early afternoon, as they do in Mediterranean countries, where the pace of life and the way of life is a little more sane and more balanced than it is in the frenzied and manic north. But whatever the herd does, we need not follow in any case.
The point of this little seeming tangent is not what schedule we keep, however, but whether we allow ourselves any quiet time alone at all. If we do not, then we will almost certainly be swept along by currents outside of ourselves, and our lives will be wasted in mere drifting with the tide. If we wish for any depth of happiness, of peace, of tranquility, of independence of mind and spirit, any true empowerment, or any real depth of life for that matter, we will have to devote ourselves in some measure to the pursuit of solitude, and allow ourselves time to be alone.
Whether that is early morning, mid-day, evening or night, matters not so much – what matters is whether or not we make time for solitude, reflection or an inner life. If we choose not to, then we will probably live as blind paupers and sheep, as members of the bewildered herd, and we will never know deep peace, true empowerment, freedom, or the riches that lie within.
But in order to make time for solitude, reflection, meditation, a spiritual life or a reflective life, or time simply to think or to come back to our senses, we must face certain challenges which must be overcome. Among these are conformity, conditioning, obedience, misplaced priorities, boredom, loneliness, and the inability to sit quietly with ourselves.
Conformity must be overcome or we will simply do what the herd does, and what the herd does, is to rush about frantically, running in circles and going nowhere fast, with great speed and leaving no time to think, to truly feel, to pause and reflect, or to take any serious time for an inner life. So conformity must be abandoned. Again, the herd is lost: do not follow those who are lost – to do so would be insane.
Social conditioning must be abandoned and obedience to authority must be abandoned as well, for the same reason, among others. For the vast majority of people living in the modern world, unless we grew up in a very exceptional environment, our social conditioning has been that we must be perpetually busy, and busy with what in the end amounts to a frantic idelness, and a gross waste of life, if not a dedication to the compliant complicity with and service to what has become a banality of evil, a pathologically abnormal norm. Our conditioning has been mixed, in most cases, and some of it is positive, while much of it is negative, harmful, even sociopathic or crazy, self-destructive or harmful to others, or both. If we are to recover our senses, find inner peace, become truly empowered, discover the highest happiness, find our inner riches, or live a richly fulfilling and meaningful life, we will have to dispense with much if not most of our social conditioning – and that means that we absolutely must dispense with our trained impulse to trust and obey our social conditioning no matter what it says or how absurd or even wicked it may be.
The same is true with regards to obedience to authority. Authority is not necessarily wise, intelligent, or even benign; and authority is likewise not necessarily evil, stupid, ignorant or malignant. Authority is simply authority. Sometimes social authorities express wisdom, compassion, basic intelligence or clarity of mind, and sometimes – very often, in fact – social authorities express a basic confusion, delusion, deceit or malignancy. If our habit is to automatically defer to and obey authority, then we are lost, and we are in a very dangerous position.
The great majority of people have been deeply indoctrinated and conditioned to obey authority and to surrender their conscience and their own judgement and instead to have a basic trust in authority and to be obedient serfs. They have been taught to abandon their own common sense, their natural and innate intelligence and their own instincts and intuition and simply do what they are told, and believe what they are told. To succumb to the habit of routinely and without reflection obeying authority – as the great majority have done and continue to do – is to live as a child, in a perpetual state of infancy. So long as this is our habit, we will never know who we are, nor even take the time to find out – and we will never find that inner richness which exists in the heart of all beings and all that is; nor will we ever find our true freedom, empowerment or deepest joy. Such a life is to a great degree, a tragic waste of an immeasurably precious gift which is fleeting and will not last forever.
There are also others who habitually reject all authority. The habitually obedient live as children and infants. The habitually rebellious who automatically and uncritically reject all authority live as perpetual adolescents. True maturity of spirit and mind come from rejecting both blind obedience and equally blind rebellion, in favour of simply thinking fvor oursevles. Cometimes authority is useful, othertimes it is not. We have to be willing to think for ourselves, however, if we are to ascertain which is the case, and to be able to recognize legitimate authority from ignorant, oppressive, deluded or malignant authority. Automaticaly rebelling or obeyong is blind, in either case. The key is to break the habit of automatically trusting in or obeying authority, while recognizing that sometimes, even if only on rare occassions, authority can actually be intelligent and useful.
Jesus and the Buddha were both social authorities, in the essential sense of the term, which is to say that they had influence in human society and in others’ lives. They were not authoritarians, but they were and are social authorities. They were liberators, I would say, but the point here is that they were most definitely influential – which means that they were, in the essential sense of the term, in positions of social authority. Should we dismiss or reject what they had to say because they were in positions of influence or authority? I would say that would be unwise and unintelligent. At the other extreme, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini represent another kind of social authority – a kind of social authority which is malignant, oppressive, deluded and delusional, sociopathic and pathological, if not frankly evil. To obey them or any authorities like them, would be insane, as well as cowardly, unethical in the extreme, and a grand betrayal of our own common sense and innate intelligence.
In between these two extremes, between social authorities such as Jesus and the Buddha on the one hand, and Hitler and Stalin on the other, there is a whole spectrum of social authorities, some of whom are basically sensible, compassionate and alert, even if they are not what we would call wise or enlightened; others are simply deluded or misinformed, and others are not quite little Hitlers, but are truly diabolical in their actions or their influence, even if they have the best of intentions, or have thoroughly deceived themselves into believing their own lies or delusions. If we cannot separate out who is wise and benign, or at least, who is reasonably clear-minded and compassionate – which is to say, the legitimate social authorities, the ones we may intelligently give credence to – from the diabolical and the confused, then we are truly lost. But in order to assess what authorities we can or should give credence to, we must first overcome our habit of automatically obeying and trusting in authority, for if we automatically obey or trust in authority, then we are incapable of thinking for ourselves. Thoreau’s essay On Civil Disobedience, Etienne de la Boite’s essay, The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude, and Erich Fromm’s, Escape From Freedom, should help to bring us to our senses.
Who are social authorities? Anyone who exerts an strong influence over the lives of others. The first social auhtorites we encounter are our mother and father. After them come relatives, teachers, school principles and guidance counsellors, priests and other religious authorities, professors, scientists and academics, doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, judges, police, journalists, news anchors and media personalities, pundits, politicians, writers, celebrities, bosses, bureaucrats, business owners and other persons of influence. Most times, the people in such positions of power or cultural influence serve the role of gaurdians of the establishment, as Howard Zinn remarked. They are the guardians of the existing distribution of wealth, and more centrally, the guardians of the existing distribution of power, along with the dominant social institutions and the established norm – no matter how ignorant, outmoded, insane, oppressive or evil such norms and power relations may be. Occassionally, people in positions of social power or cultural influence chellenge the established power relations, norms and order of things. When they do the former, society tends to reward them. When they do the latter, as Socrates, jesus, the Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi did, society, or at least, the ruling elite and their loyal guardians, tend to make their lives difficult.
And while some of the authorities in our lives are well-meaning, most are far from enlightened, many are deveived, and many others are deceptive or simply delusional. We must learn to think for ourselves, or we are in great danger – and we are in danger not only of being harmed, or being led off a cliff, but we are also in danger of living our lives foolishly or in unsatisfying or even grossly unethical ways, while realizing it not. Authority must be challenged and questioned. Ayuthority is never self-justifying, and it is up to us to determine when it is wise and benign, or at least legitimate, and when it is not; when it can be given credence, and when it must be firmly rejected, or even overturned.
As to misplaced authorities, well, that is a major element of the profoundly abnormal norm of modern society. But if we are willing to question authority and group think, to reject conformity and obedience and to think for ourselves, then we will come to reflect on what our priorities are, and we will not waste our lives in mad pursuit of trivial things or fundamentally confused priorities. A little reflection here will clarify this matter on its own, and quickly so, if we are brave, and not timidly sticking with the herd or the parental authority figures of our society at all costs. In a word, simplify. Or better, three words: slow down, simplify. Our lives will be improved immeasurably if we will but do this.
Come to terms with….not as a burden, a cross to bear or as a horrible fate….befriend…find the peace and the joy of solitude, find the richness of solitude…benefits of this.
Most essentially, and most immediately, the first steps toward restoring our basic sanity and our common sense, and to discovering that richness that lies within, are to slow down, stop following the herd, and start thinking for ourselves.
“People tell you you can’t sleep in a strange bed,
Then they tell you can’t sleep alone…
It’s ok, either way you wake up with yourself.”
Don Miguel Ruiz was right: we shouldn’t take anything personally – everyone is living in their own dream. What other people think about you matters nothing. It is whether or not you know who you are that matters. If you do, then you are at peace. If you are not at peace, then you do not. It is a simple and reliable test. If you are not at peace, then either you have not yet fulfilled that most wise advice of advice, which is, as the ancient Greeks said, to know thyself; or else you have forgotten who you are.
As Jesus said, in the Gospel of Thomas, which was rediscovered in the 1940’s, and even now, still widely unknown, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” And, “The kingdom of heaven is spread out upon the earth, but men see it not.” And, most pointedly, “I took my stand in the midst of humanity, and I wept for them, for they came into the world blind, and they seek to leave the world blind.”
Forget the lost and aimless crowd who are madly rushing off in all directions, repeatedly falling into ditches in their blindness, flinging themselves madly upon an impaling stick, and rushing headlong toward a very steep cliff. Do not follow them, and do not be overly concerned for what they think. “Father please forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Not only do they not know what they are doing, they also have no idea who they are or where they are going. So don’t follow the herd, whatever you do.
Know thyself. Knock, and the door will be opened. Seek, and ye shall find. The kingdom of heaven is within you.
And in the meantime, until you discover that rich treasure that lies within: to thine own self be true. You will never have any deep or lasting peace, or any awareness of your own inner richness, until and unless you begin to trust yourself and stop following the herd.
Trust yourself. It is that important.
Tend your garden, and let others tend their own. If they are so bored with their lives that they have to mind your business as well as their own, then they are probably not tending their own garden – and are not tending to their own self-cultivation; or the cultivation of no-self, for that matter. They would be better off, if they are that bored, to entertain themselves with infomercials, than to be so meddlesome. Let them live their own lives, and you live yours.
Life is short; let’s not waste it on trivia and non-sense. And gossip and meddling are always one or the other, and usually both. If gossip is their fixation, let them fixate on the idiocy of celebrity worship. If they truly want to help others, let them volunteer at a food bank, or plant a community garden, and stop bleating at others their generally misinformed opinions on how others should live. But whatever the herd does, it remains best to trust yourself, and to follow your own inner guidance, regardless.
Who’s opinion matters in the end? Only your own. In the end, you have to live with yourself. To thine own self be true.
J. Todd Ring,
December 21, 2013
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
The Voice of Knowledge – Don Miguel Ruiz
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are – Allan Watts
The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley
The Gospel of Thomas – Marvin Meyers transl.
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
On Civil Disobedience – Thoreau
The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Brave New World Revisited – Huxley
1984 – George Orwell
We – Alexander Zamyantin
The Dispossessed – Ursula Leguin
The Power Elite – C. Wright Mills
Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky
Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Chomsky
Roads To Freedom – Bertrand Russell
Self-Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Divinity School Address – Emerson
Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm
The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin
World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy
No Boundary – Ken Wilber
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryu Suzuki
The Holographic Universe – Michael Talbot
Mysticism and the New Physics – Michael Talbot
Dreamtime and Inner Space – Holgar Kalweit
Dialogues with Scientists and Sages – Renee Weber
Billy Joel, My Life, with lyrics, on youtube: