June 2017 By Nandini Sarkar The moments spent alone not just strengthen us to face life on our own, but also hugely enhance our creativity, efficiency, and spiritual strength, says Nandini Sarkar This was way back in 1998. “You are not meditating!” Swami Shantananda gently chided the girl sitting next to me, at the YSS Ranchi ashram. Guiltily, she closed her eyes. Today, you don’t have to tell anyone to mediate. Everyone meditates. Now, the time has come to make a strong pitch for solitude. Edward G Brown puts it very well: Now, solitude could use some better PR! Most people seem to dread being alone. Today, old and young are all hyperactive. Everyone is checking their WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Instagram or Snapchat account every five minutes. Not to be left behind, even my local plant supplier, Dillip, sends me WhatsApp pictures of the latest happenings in the horticultural world. Enough please! It’s time to pull the plug and get unwired. It’s time to consciously zero in on solitudeand then zero out to become a creative, energising, confident and joyous force in the world. Shiva-Shakti One of the best examples of the Zero in-Zero out principle is the Shiva- Shakti union. When Mahakali stands over a sleeping Mahadeva, this has an underlying meaning. As the sleeping Shiva, the Creator is alone, undistracted and deeply engrossed in meditation. Emerging from His meditative state, He takes the form of Mahakali, the creative energy or Shakti that creates countless worlds and keeps the play of Maya going, for the entertainment of countless beings. If we look around us, there will be several reminders right from our childhood, that we need to embrace solitude with the same effort with which we seek company or action. Cave in Cuttack My mother says she realised this when she was 56 years old. In that year, my brother and I both lefthome for higher studies and marriage, respectively. A supremely devoted mother, her whole world had revolved around us and doing things for us, so she was immediately sucked into a vacuum. Then, after retirement, my father was transferred on a judicial posting from happening Delhi to the sleepy town of Cuttack. After us children, my mothers had relied heavily on her huge friends’ circle and daily social circuit in Delhi to keep her juices flowing. Now, that too was rudely snatched away. Initially, she says, she found it maddening: the silence and the emptiness, punctuated only by the sound of mooing cows and bullocks that are ever present on the streets of Cuttack. Then japa came to her rescue. Some years before, she had taken mantra diksha from the Ramakrishna Mission. Now japa became her anchor and the silent house in Cuttack became her solitary cave. She meditated twice a day in solitude and took time off in between, to cook, paint and stitch, which she had not done for years in busy Delhi. Initially, she was forced to embrace the silence because there was no one to talk to and my father, the workaholic, was always busy. Gradually, she started enjoying the silence and the solitude. Japa gave her profound peace. In Cuttack, my father also suffered a massive heart attack. My mother remained calmly active at his hospital bedside, arranging medical help and doing non-stop japa by his bedside. When we arrived in Cuttack to see my father, we found her very composed. Fortunately, my father recovered without bypass surgery and with non-invasive heart treatment. With this turning point, came another turning point: my father was transferred to Calcutta on another judicial posting and she was back in the city’s social circuit. However, the lesson was learnt. Since then, my mother keeps an hour of silence, daily, faithfully, every morning in Calcutta, before she swings into her busy schedule with family, grandchildren, friends and the hundred things on offer in a metro. Even when she is ill she does her daily retreat in bed. I have never seen her miss a single day’s japa, over the past many years. My mother has a cave-like puja room built into hermaster bedroom and when she retreats there each morning, with two dimly lit lamps and the humming sound of mantra, the whole house vibrates with the purity of her intention. If you won’t, life will Like my mother, all of us, without exception,are going to be directed towards periods of aloneness. We will protest and say it’s unfair; the Masters will call it spiritual cleansing. Children will leave home; parents and spouses will die; ill-health may hole us up and leave us on our own; retirement will create a vacuum; business may fail and leave us without friends; a particular workplace or family situation may leave us feeling lost and friendless. In ancient times, our wise ancestors prepared for this eventuality through the practice of vanaprastha. From the time they were born, they were prepared to retreat gracefully from worldly activities and they knew what to do when the time came. Even Krishna’s friends, the Pandavas, spent 14 years in isolation. Solitude taught them so many lessons, the most important being self-awareness. Today, Vipassana practitioners do a 10-day silent retreat and emerge strengthened and recharged. They have prepared themselves to never feel lonely. Priyanka Gandhi came out of a 10-day Vipassana retreat, then went straight to meet her father, Rajiv Gandhi’s killer in jail, and was able to forgive her. But it’s tough without spiritual preparation. A relative of mine was widowed in her 20s, and was left alone with a child. While she bravely battled all sorts of troubles and difficulties, including her child’s long tryst with depression, she always appeared grim and unhappy. I think the major reason is she never looked inward or spent time in contemplation. She was always movingfrom one Grim Duty to Another Grim Duty, one to-do list to another, without stopping to nourish her spirit. Life was always the Antagonist and she was the eternal Protagonist, grimly fighting the enemies. I met her last Sunday when she dropped by with some others and felt so sorry for her. Everyone else in the family group was laughing and happy but though she pretended to smile, it was a very superficial smile that did not reach her eyes or light up her face. O God! Take away everything, if you will, but do not take away selfawareness! Susan Cain: Solitude is a crucial but underrated ingredient of creativity Life is not meant to be lived unhappily,moving from one challenge to another. Solitude helps us to discover an unknown source of joy that wells up in the heart like a magical fountain. A friend of mine spends long periods in solitude. She says she feels happy for no reason and starts dancing and laughing for no reason. Yogis who spend long periods in silence state that they taste amrit or divine nectar trickling down from the brain. The best lesson solitude teaches is that we do not really need another person to make us feel whole or happy. Solitude gives us the gift of self-dependence and detachment from the ever-changing play of Maya. It helps us to call Maya’s bluff. We learn that we can enjoy this world withoutbecoming attached to it or depressed by a particular state of events because it’s just a game and should not be taken too seriously. Alone, the soul emerges A 2014 research study found that moments of solitude – even small ones – when self-imposed, intentional, and fully appreciated, can have profound effects on our productivity and creative thinking. “Solitude is a crucial and underrated ingredient for creativity,” Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet, told Scientific American. “From Darwin to Picasso to Dr Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude.” According to Yoga Journal, loneliness, like fear, is a threshold emotion – you have to pass through it if you want to enter the inner world. Solitude is that magical and transformative state that poets, mystics, and yogis celebrate as the great laboratory for self-awareness and spiritual growth. "Alone... and the soul emerges," wrote the poet, Walt Whitman. Research has shown that in fact, one inevery two or three people is an introvert – preferringalone time to stimulation and large groups of people. According to Cain, “You’d never guess that because introverts learn from an early age to pretend to be extroverts.” The successful introvert I remember the great example of my maternal grandfather, Benoy Bhushan Ghosh, a highly successful person and a committed introvert. A brilliant engineer and wealthy Bengali businessman in the Calcutta of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the only businessmen were Marwaris, he was also largehearted and contributed enormously to the wellbeing of others. Dadu spoke little and to the point; he was always loving but somewhat detached. He exuded a tremendous aura of peace and strength. People called him a wise man and relied on his advice. Dadu would walk alone, silently, in the park, twice a day and have daily periods of contemplative silence, sitting in his hard, and straight-backed wooden chair. No rituals or outward emotion for him; he would sit quietly in silence. He was a dynamo of worldly and spiritual power and he had learnt to embrace silence positively. From this and several other examples of great people, it is clear that creativity and efficiency need solitude to thrive. Date with the self Julia Cameron: Resistance to spending time alone is nothing but a fear of self-intimacy Reed Larson, Professor of Human Development andFamily Studies at the University of Illinois, has studied the effects solitude has on the development and long-term well-being of teens and adolescents. He found that while being alone is, “not a particularly happy state in the moment, it nonetheless has a kind of a rebound effect. It&rsqu
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