Solitude and the Rat Race

“WHEN Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it.”

In Herman Hesse’s “Siddharta,” the young boy who is the eponymous protagonist starts his journey into solitude and self-discovery much earlier.

The Prophet Muhammad had done it enough so that by the age of 25 he was visited upon by the archangel Gabriel.

Now I know these may be allegories and parables. Yet I remain convinced of the value of solitude and meditative self-discovery in the life of every human being.

We live in an age of information over-load. Of instant-gratification. Of shopping. Of television, and internet, and billboards, and ipods. And of ever-evolving identities. In this madness too little time is left to one to discover oneself. To listen of one’s inner voice.

Maybe the four-year liberal arts college was meant to fulfill that purpose, but not anymore. Just read Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” or Tom Wolf’s “I am Charlotte Simmons.” I could not describe my own frustration and disappointment with the process in better words if I tried. There too one is overwhelmed by noise and too few people actually take the time to discover themselves. And build character.  There is a fetishistic emphasis on passing on information and doing the loads of assignments, and too little time left for critical reflection upon oneself.


Now I have had my own share of solitude. But it has not been real solitude in the sense of withdrawal from the world and into oneself. Granted that I have spent a lot of time without the physical presence of other persons (by choice at some times, at others forced to.) Yet not a day has gone by where I have not communicated with them -beyond space and time- through email, blogs, reading, writing, radio, films (thankfully I do not have a cellphone and do not watch TV.)  All of that takes away from true solitude.

I remember real solitude. The kind of solitude that makes you feel deeply, terribly alone. The kind of solitude that pushes you to the edge – when you give up reaching out to non-existent others and fall back onto yourself. The moment of discovering one’s self. When I was young, very young, I lived away from my family. My parents and siblings. It is not a period I remember with ease and comfort or nostalgia. And yet it was perhaps one of the most formative in my life. My image of myself was formed in those early years of solitude. And then I lived away from them for another length of time, and whenever I could rescue myself from the imposed company of others with whome I could not connect on any plane, I cherished my solitude. Now, that is not possible. Because I am outgoing, and have overcome my social anxiety. This makes it considerably harder to live in solitude. Because that is not easy, and if one can, one would rather reach out to others to overcome it.

This is why, for instance, the Iranian poet Suhrab Sepehri -who I think lived one of the loneliest, and thereby most self-aware lives amidst others- wrote once, almost reminding himself about his solitude and its importance, and cautioning himself about letting it be interrupted:

یاد من باشد تنها هستم

ماه بالای سر تنهایی ست

I would have liked to spend this past summer alone, travelling to far off places in the world, and into unseen corners of my soul. But I could not. Our lives are a mad rat race today. One is compelled to keep up with the rat race.


~ by safrang on January 16, 2007.

One Response to “Solitude and the Rat Race”

  1. […] file under [the rat race] Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)NaMaSaKi and Attractive Indian NovelistsHomage to […]

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