One of the interesting insights into meditation is that clearing the mind is just one part of meditation. We come to realize that our thoughts are never entirely our own anyway. Our thoughts come from our sense surroundings: what we think about things we have heard, seen, or felt. Our thoughts are coming from our environment, our society, our culture, our everyday experiences. They are provoked and contrived. This is not to gainsay creativity, insight, uniqueness. But the universe is always “smarter” than we are: more creative, more insightful, more characteristically unique.
Realizing the second-hand nature of our thoughts may alarm us as solitaries. We may wonder about that self we so carefully preserve and keep aloof from the world and the crowd, that grand project of our solitude. Is it really just a slightly lesser product of social stimulation, like a plant in a dark room without sunlight?
Our desire for eremitical life is inspired initially, perhaps, by a restless realization that all this worldly stimuli weighs upon us, and that solitude is a path towards equanimity, provding space for growth. This may entail a sense of guilt at first — is this selfishness, indulgence, egoism? Meditation responds to all these questions by introducing the universal order into the orbit of our own daily selves.
The importance of meditation — or its equivalent in whatever tradition we find ourselves comfortable — is to empty the self of external stimuli. This process empties ourselves not by argument, refutation, disgust, penitence, or absolution but by continued disengagement. This disengagement means that simply physical solitude does not make the ideal hermit, nor an attidue of detachment while in the crows. It means that the disengagement is not just from the world but from thoughts, our thoughts. We empty ourselves at both the source and ground of our thoughts. At the very place that our fickle minds take in externals, mull them over and entertain them, extrapolate upon them, turn them into feelings and sensibilities. Here is the proper disposition for solitude, where the foundation for solitude is laid: disengagement, which is the very process of achieving solitude.