Monday, September 5, 2011

The Path of Solitude

by Laura Bickle

I think that solitude is one of those things that people instinctively crave or avoid. I'm a craver, an avowed introvert. I can happily spend days without speaking to another human, focusing on this project or that project and letting the hours run together from dawn to dusk. I'm more productive when I have solitude, and more at peace.

It's funny. I intermittently attend a meditation class. I always find it more difficult to meditate in a group than in my own backyard, with the grass squished between my toes. Grass doesn't sigh, twitch, cough, or demand attention. Despite my teacher's discussions about energy and the interconnectedness of all things, I always find myself coming back to my own set point in solitude.

One of my favorite Tarot cards is the Hermit. It classically depicts an old man leaning on a walking stick, holding a lantern of illumination. The traditional meaning is about solitude, introspection, and keeping one's own counsel. The Hermit is also a man who searches for truth and wisdom, guided by the light of his lantern. He's on a journey by himself. He carries only what he needs with him, and he knows that he moves forward alone.

Maybe the Hermit's path to wisdom and enlightenment is the long, roundabout way. It's easier, I think, to ask questions and have someone give guidance. Put in the quarter and get what you want out of the vending machine of mysteries. But it does rob us of the work of walking the journey ourselves, with all the bumps and turns in the road.


  1. I like finding things out for myself as well, although it can also be interesting to get the answer from others and then check that answer to see if you agree or come up with a different answer.

  2. Good point, Sullivan - it's exactly like checking one's work!

  3. David and I were having a conversation about this the other day, that some answers you have to arrive at on your own. After you do, you often discover someone else - maybe a bunch of someone elses - already wrote about it. But it wouldn't have done much good to read it. Only after you find the answer and the question, does it really resonate.

  4. I wonder how many Hermits turn into the Hierophant, how many become the Fool, and how many remain on their solitary path. I reckon it's a matter of whether the Hermit chooses to share what he's learned or if his joy is in being the perpetual student.

  5. I think there's a huge difference between what you know in your head, and what you know in your heart. It isn't until the head and the heart both get it, that you truly know and understand something. And heart learning only comes from experience, so whether you are somebody who likes to hang out with the crowd or not, you still have to live a little before you can get that enlightenment thing going on.

  6. Jeffe and Kerry, I'm the same way. I generally have to experience something in order to fully "learn" it.

    KAK, interesting idea. My teacher has a similar idea about meditation practice - that there are various levels. Sometimes, we settle into one of them for a short while or a long time, and sometimes we cycle back and forth. So I think it's possible to be the Hermit for awhile, switch to the Hierophant, and then go back to hermetic existence.