Nearly all meditative practices, East or West, employ a mantra or sound or prayer as a focal object. But the mantra becomes an accompaniment, for it is contrived by the meditator. Not only might many practitioners be unaware of the full meaning of the words but they might as well be repeating any words from any foreign tongue without knowing their meaning. Instead of cultivating sound, we ought to be cultivating silence. In cultivating silence we do not hear ourselves, that is, our “selves” and, emptied of self, we can be filled with the universe.
A professor I knew conceived of a little experiment for understanding what affects us and what affects the world, though he put it in more modest terms. He proposed that for thirty days one avoid all sources of “news.” No newspapers, television, radio, magazines (there was no Internet then). At the end of thirty days, return to the “news” and decide. What had fundamentally changed in the world, not as a sequence of events but had really changed, intrinsically changed? And, more importantly, what could we have done in thirty days to change ourselves, intrinsically?
The most common objection to the solitary life is that it is selfish. But everyone in society participating in the popular culture around them is “selfish” in the sense of serving themselves or using the objects around them — material or human, near or far — to gratify themselves, usually gratifying luxuries and whims, not needs. Solitude as separation from society and culture has the best chance for letting a person break away and into a better state of mind, body, and soul. Assuming, of course, that the solitary is not simply reproducing society and culture anyway, but in a private little world, still eager to consume society’s products, fads, and extravagances.
Birds are flying southward. At twilight their magnificent companies appear suddenly in the sky, flying in the typical “V” shape, some precise, some a little scraggly. And some, in imitation of typography, change the font by adding a little serif on the ends of the “V.”
In his Parabola interview, Fr. Dunstan Morrissey says that “one has to be naturally extroverted” to cope with solitude, because solitude is embraced on behalf of everyone. Other professed or religious solitaries, East and West, have said the equivalent. Given the classic definition of extroversion as self-identity by external objects, this statement would confirm these solitaries’ need to reconcile themselves to external realities — in this case, not abandoning the world and “everyone” — before embarking or succeeding in solitude. But the classic introvert, who defines self-identity by internal objects, would point to life circumstances as sufficient reason for pursuing solitude, and perhaps not even notice “everyone.”