The Lesson of Loneliness
Irish Theosophist, October, 1896
We shall learn many good things that we have long forgotten, as we find our way back again to real life; among them one that we have much need of—the art of being rightly alone.
There is too much noise and hurry in our life; things done too quickly and with too great pains; for the most part, petty things, that might very well not be done at all. It is a game of personalities, not of our real selves. It has been well said that we think too much of each other: not that we praise and respect each other too highly—though we err in that way too—but that we are too much subject to the faces and fancies of our friends, too sensible of their praise or blame. Good people may imagine an ideal society in which perfect complacency would reign, by virtue of each one thinking supremely well of himself, and seeing his contentment mirrored in mild, kind faces round him. Such a paradise would be more hopeless than sin.
But without going to such a length, it is easy to he too fretfully anxious as to other people’s good opinions; too apprehensive as to their liking this or another thing we may do; too heated and uneasy, like the youth whose fixed delusion is that his necktie: is awry.
For all this fret and restlessness there is no cure like solitude. To go away into the night, where mountains and stars initiate us into some of their dignity and reticence, and, more than all, their self-forgetfnlness. Even then, for a while we carry with us our bundle of apprehensions, and the fancied faces of our critics, with their blame and praise that have taken away all our simplicity: so completely have we lost the art of loneliness.
But, after a while, our little storm subsides, and quietness begins to come upon us, ready to take us into the confidence of the gods, if we only consent to remain restful-minded long enough. We learn a curious and yet stately lesson, which much of our life only served to hide; the lesson that our chief concern is not with personalities at all, whether our own admirable persons, or the good folk of daily life; that our chief concern is with the old impersonal spirit who only draws near us when we leave ourselves behind. In that great lonely One then is much that awes us for a while, yet much that is intimately consoling, and at the last, full of rejoicing and joy. This is the quiet power that, without haste or heat. yet quite easily, wove innumerable worlds; wove old Time and Space to put them in, breathing into the least of them the spirit of life; the power with heart of mirth that looks out to us beautiful, through the grass and flowers, the coloured clouds, and the blue that enwraps all things. And into our souls, when the little, noisy crowd of personal things has withdrawn a while, that same power comes, awful and full of great quietness, taking us up into itself, and making us older than time, greater than boundless worlds. Here at last is a life could live to eternity, and feel no weariness.
This inspiration of real life is for itself alone, without ulterior ends; it by no means reveals itself to us that, when we return among our personalities, we should be able to say fine things about it, to draw others into the right way. The Eternal does not come to our heart to make us sanctimonious preachers, but rather to win us away altogether from the fret and heat of unreality to the quiet benediction of real life.
After that initiation into silence, we shall find another meaning in ourselves and in on our friends. Our friends will not be critics whose praise or blame are our clouds and sunshine; we shall learn to meet them with a better wisdom, for we shall see that same august spirit looking at us out of their eyes; we shall know that nothing in them, nothing in us, is real but that. All life will become to us the presence of that One, the all in all things.
That is the true loneliness, where nothing but the spirit is, and the spirit is all things; the spirit that we must know and enter into first in the inmost place of our own souls. It is the true and lasting cure for sorrow, to forget ourselves into that august companion, who has ordained all things wisely through endless years. It is as the cool breath of night after a long day of fever, the fever that we have called our life. And yet not night, but a new dawn rather, the first dawn of the real day.
Pain and sorrow are woven into the texture of our personal life in order that, growing weary of it the sooner, we may get ready for the truer life that is impersonal, where the incessant battles of I and thee are hushed into peace. This is the spirit that will redeem humanity, the spirit that comes to fill our hearts when our fancied selves have been put aside and forgotten; redeemed humanity will be this—all men, beholding the same spirit in each other’s eyes, and beholding it with joy and gladness. Then, after redeemed humanity, will come restored divinity, spirit as itself alone.
The path is not that I or you or anyone should gain new powers and larger sight; but each of us putting aside the I and you, that the free spirit should live its own life and perform its perfect work, the spirit that we truly are, behind the masks of I and you. There is no entering on the path until the masks of I and you are put away.
Our small selves cannot hear the burden of the universe; if they sincerely try, they will quickly come to long for utter forgetfulness, surcease and darkness. But their way of liberation is close to them, a liberation into the boundless One, whose heart is gladness, whose ways are peace, whose light and mirthful works are unnumbered worlds, brimful of alert and exultant life.