In Herman Melville's classic 'Moby Dick', there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great white whale. The sailors in Captain Ahab's boat are labouring to keep the vessel on course in a raging sea, every muscle taut. They labor furiously as they concentrate on the task at hand. There is, however, one man in the boat who does nothing. He doesn't hold an oar; he doesn't perspire; he doesn't shout. He is languid - utterly relaxed, quiet and poised. This man is the harpooner, and his job is to patiently wait for 'the moment'. As Melville says 'To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil."
What a marvelous tonic for effective living in this rapid fire world! Those who want to live each day to the fullest must prepare for it from a state of idleness rather than from toil. The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice and letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life to flow in. Pascal once said 'All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone'. This means finding a moment of solitude to meditate, to plan, to focus and to regulate our lives.
Solitude should not be confused with loneliness. Loneliness is a negative quality, a deficiency state, and originates from the feeling of being left alone, deprived and dissatisfied. Loneliness is imposed on you by others. Solitude is something you choose. Solitude is something you WANT and feel comfortable with, a peaceful, relaxing and inspirational space in which you keep company with yourself. Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.
"Oh! I don't have time for solitude!" people grumble. "I am too busy to add one more agenda to my life." But many people find that a regular period of solitude to chart the day's course, still the mind, listen and prepare actually creates more time than it takes. It sieves from our mind the accumulated debris. We hear voices in solitude which we never hear in the hurry burry of life; we receive counsels and comforts, we get under no other condition. It helps us to re-examine things in a new perspective, cleanses our vision and lessens our tension. It gives us inner peace that translates into outer peace.
On the eve of my departure to Saudi Arabia from Cochin on 27th Nov 1997, I got a call at midnight from my sister informing that my father had been hospitalized and was in a coma. Early morning at 5 AM I went to the hospital at Alleppey. I saw my father lying there like a log. I consulted the doctor and told him of my plight that I had to take a flight to Saudi Arabia on that day. The doctor opined that only if my father's kidneys start functioning, could he say something. Regarding whether to leave or stay back, he said that the decision should be mine. I consulted my relatives who were in the hospital. Their contradictory opinions created only more confusion in me. I went to the backyard of the hospital and there I saw a beautiful garden with almond trees. Alone I went near an almond tree and consulted myself about what I should do. After a few minutes, I went back to my relatives and told them that I was leaving for Saudi Arabia and that my father was going to recover. I had at least two more chances to visit my father from Saudi before he said his final good bye. A few moments of solitude had helped me to listen to myself and take a decision.
Someone once told Socrates that a disciple of his had not improved by undertaking travel. His answer was 'I am sure he won't. He went with himself'. What Socrates meant was that he went with his ambition, jealousy, desires and greed and as a result nothing changed in his trip. A hectic businessman, even if he goes to Himalaya may not gain anything from solitude if he preoccupies his mind with his business worries. Hence a mere withdrawal from crowd or a cramming city will not bring solitude. If you do not first lighten yourself of the weight of your burdens, moving about or travel will only increase your worries. It is our 'self' that we have to first isolate and take back into custody, to open the door of solitude.
We live in a world where we are terminally in touch through phones, pagers, mobiles and the net. Yet, in a more profound way, we are terminally out of touch with ourselves. There are times when we want nothing better than to be left alone. Be sensitive to those times and give the gift of solitude to others. Growth takes place in a person by working at a deep inner level in a sustained atmosphere of silence.
Eye of the storm is that unique spot in the center of a Tornado that is calm and quiet, almost isolated from the frenzy of turbulence and violence around it. Even when I saw my father battling for life, I could remain in that eye of the storm by seeking a moment of solitude.