The Virtues of Solitude – 6. Courage

Courage Isn’t Fearlessness

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The first question we must ask ourselves is: What is courage? Courage is being comfortable with uncertainty. That’s it!

Courageous and cowardly people aren’t that different, they both share the same human anxieties and fears that come with the unknown. The only difference is courageous people hear their fear, put their fears aside and do things anyway, while cowards listen to the fears and follow them.

We aren’t born with courage but born with the potential for it.  I’ve heard many people declare that being “normal” is some kind of virtue, but if you think about it, being normal denotes a lack of courage, as the majority of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.

Paradoxically, many heroes are men who weren’t courageous enough to be cowards.  They feared more the opinions of others than their own fears.  The biggest hindrance of courage is to pursue dreams that are different, uncertain, or audacious, especially in regard to how other people will see them, and whether they will criticize them or not.

I’ve learnt that to be brave you must trust the uncertainty that comes with change.

Trusting Uncertainty

Successful people all share one common element, they have great trust in themselves.  They are all courageous enough to be different, and to conquer their fears of criticism or death.

It is commonly thought that hate is the polar opposite of love when in fact the opposite is not hate, but fear.  Love expands, fear shrinks, love opens, fear closes, love trusts, fear doubts. The deeper you go into love through trust, the less fear there is.

Only in loving your dreams and wanting something badly enough will you decide that trusting uncertainty is a much more fruitful path than fearing uncertainty.  Looking for safety isn’t safe, it’s taking the fun out of everything, which also includes removing risks.

With enough experience facing fears you develop a confidence that allows you to trust in your own abilities in any situation.  Don’t get me wrong, confident people still feel fear, but they know they’ve coped well with situations before by trusting themselves.  Most of all, they trust their intelligence enough to go into the unknown, they know that even if the whole known world disappears… they will still be able to settle and make a home in the unknown.

Courage creates the difference between surviving and living.

To practice any other virtue requires at the foremost courage.  Any resistance to change out of fear eventually causes suffering and stagnation.  In the end it takes courage to endure the intimidating feelings of self discovery, and resist the dull monotony of our lives.

One final message from what I’ve learnt: endurance is the key word. Courage isn’t a fearless outburst, it’s a quiet persistence that will not surrender to the fear it feels.  To fail is not really a failure, it’s an opportunity to try again.


The Virtues of Solitude – 5. Appreciation

Did you know that only 10% of our mind functions consciously on a daily basis?

That leaves the other 90% functioning on an unconscious auto-pilot mode.  In essence, all the stimulation of our daily lives is filtered out for what is the most immediately relevant to us.  So what’s the big deal you ask?  The big deal is the little things we miss on the way. We miss the opportunities for admiration, the doorways to experiencing gratitude, and the chances to appreciate life as a whole.  We miss the feelings of happiness, the childlike sensations of awe, and the innocent curiosity of wonder.

If you look around, it’s easy to see that the need for personal Solitude is great in this world.  Not only does Solitude help us develop inner peace, acceptance and understanding, but also outer insight, awareness and most essentially, appreciation.  After all, how are we supposed to enjoy the journey rather than the destination without appreciating what we see on the way?

Gratitude and Appreciation

If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.  ~  S. Maraboli

Gratitude stems from appreciation and is essentially an attitude of thankfulness towards the big and little things of life.  When was the last time you sat down and thought about all the things you’re thankful for?  Or stopped at the traffic lights and felt gratitude for your ability to work for money, drive, gather food, function normally … So why do we complain more than feel appreciation in our lives?  The answer is an easy one: lack of awareness, and lack of alone time and personal Solitude.  As I mentioned earlier, we live most of our days in an automatic and unconscious state.  As you can read in a previous article, this is largely due to the fact that we constantly live in the past or off in the future, forgetting about this present moment now.  To experience gratitude is to experience an appreciation of the present moment, of what we possess right now.  Experiencing gratitude also requires a certain level of introspective alone time, you could even say that gratitude is a natural byproduct of Solitude.  Without Solitude, it’s extremely difficult to develop appreciation when we’re engulfed in tides of people, noise and drama.

My question to you, the Reader:

How do you practice gratitude in your daily life?

Admiration and Appreciation

Admiration is the second element of appreciation and is basically a feeling of wonder and pleasure towards something.  Admiration is essential to our lives because it instills in us a sense of love, respect and awe for what we see.  When you pass a mountain in your car, do you feel a sense of awe and wonder?  When you see a mother nursing her young in the streets, do you feel a sense of love and respect?  Too often we take the things we see for granted, missing out on their hidden opportunities to experience admiration and appreciation, the very things that help us enjoy life.  This is due to the fact that we don’t make time and space for ourselves to absorb the world around us.  Once again, experiencing admiration in its purest form is closely linked to the need to establish personal Solitude.  How can we live life fully without first admiring, appreciating and enjoying it first?

Appreciation, the fifth virtue of Solitude, is split up into the two elements of gratitude and admiration.  These allow us to see each moment as a beautiful gift, with eyes of wonder and respect.

The Virtues of Solitude – 4. Introspection

There are two kinds of people in this world: the introspective person, and the extrospective person.

The extrospective person directs their mental focus outwards, understanding the processes of the external world.  This is the opposite function of the introspective person, who directs their mental focus inwards, making sense of the inner world and all its workings in relation to the external world, focusing on thoughts and feelings.  Now ask yourself, which one are you?  It may be hard for you to answer definitely at first, so here’s a question: do you prefer to see yourself as a scientist or a lawyer?  The answer you give to this question says a lot about how you perceive yourself and the world. Introspective people can be seen as the scientists.  A scientist begins with an observation, then moves on to research, and finally experimentation.  The scientist begins with the inner, and moves to the outer.  If you chose a lawyer on the other hand, you are most likely an extrospective person, beginning with an external conclusion, then working backwards developing all kinds of theories and explanations to validate that  conclusion.  The lawyer begins with the outer, and moves towards the surface of the inner.

Many of us don’t like dealing with our inner worlds.  We don’t like being introspective and questioning of ourselves, our motives, our decisions and our actions.  Unfortunately, this creates a false, illusory sense of self worth, as we’re unable to truly understand ourselves.  In order to develop introspection, we must first be aware of ourselves and the world around us (yet this too is rarely the case).

Introspection, a powerful virtue of Solitude, awakens our minds, heart and spirits.

Introspection of Thoughts and Feelings

The Virtues of Solitude   #4 Introspection

A major source of unhappiness in our lives is our inability to practice introspection, and to identify the nature and causes of our emotions through self-reflection.  Experiencing an emotion without practicing any introspection reveals nothing about reality – you only know that an external factor makes you sense an internal feeling, which is pretty much the same insight an animal has.  Not very insightful, is it?  Unless we’re capable of being honest with ourselves in the identification of our inner states, we’ll never be able to discover what we’re feeling.  We’ll also never be able to discover the origins of those feelings and whether those feelings are an objectively wise response to the reality of the situation, or a dangerous false perception of the situation.  In order to behave as wise as we possibly can, we must examine the emotions and beliefs that govern our behavior. Without introspection, it is possible to live a life of self-deception.

Introspection considers the context of a situation to base our decision in reality.  It examines the causes and motives of our feelings and the consequences an emotion will produce if we act on it.  We must use our emotions and passions as the sails to our existential boat, but our examination and reason as the rudder to guide them.

The Only Way Out, Is In

As you slowly become introspective of your internal reactions to the external world, you begin to feel your life is somewhat unreal, as if you had been acting out a drama. This drama is formed over an entire lifetime of education, training, culture and tradition that is taught through your socialization – of which is not your natural state.

The Virtues of Solitude   #4 Introspection

You can’t cut off your chains unless you can see them first, you cant desire escape from your external reactive prison unless you’re aware you’re inside one in the first place.  Only after finding the freedom of knowing your true self through introspection, can you decide where you want to go.  Unfortunately, the majority of people in our world function in an extrospective way, always asking “how” and turning to the external world for answers, rather than asking “why” and searching the internal world.

The Virtues of Solitude – 3. Awareness

If you have ever found your life feeling plastic and hollow, you are most a victim of lifeless living, a plague so widespread it would be called a worldwide disease… if only we were aware of it.  The problem is, we aren’t.  In fact, we’re not aware of many things these days.  Before we know it our hours, days, weeks and years pass by. We feel, but our lives are unfeeling.  We see, but we walk around blindly, and we hear, but we are deaf to the amazing vibrancy and intensity of life.  In most cases, we walk around like the living dead, dressed up as spiritless mannequins living life in a vacuum of emptiness. Why do we fall so easily in to the trap of empty living? The answer is that we aren’t aware.  In other words, we have no focused  attention of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves.
Awareness is a rich reward of practicing solitude.  Below we’ll explore why.

A Crime Against Humanity?

Why?  Why do we carry such little awareness through our days?  Why do we struggle so much to practice awareness in our daily lives?  Some people say that there is far too much stimulation and busyness in our daily lives.  Some say that  we fear the awareness that comes with solitude.  In it we see ourselves for who we truly are, and what our lives have become.  Who would want that?  Who would prefer reality over a cut off and comfortable dream?  Perhaps we like to run from truth, perhaps we prefer safety and comfort?  Or perhaps we have never known that we are awake, yet constantly dreaming?  We were never taught awareness and mindfulness by our parents, education or society. They were never even aware that it needed to be talked about, or practiced in the first place!  Instead we were fed information about maths, science, art and a whole bunch of intellectual rubbish which would never help us grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  We were never taught what awareness was, or how it could be practiced, or how it could transform our lives into constant states of joy, appreciation and acceptance. We were deprived of the very thing we needed to live life alive. I rather think this is the reason why we lack awareness to this present day.

Hearing But Not Listening.

From Eckhart Tolle, Osho to Alan Watts and Buddha, awareness has been shown to be the key to living wholly and fully.  If you were to stop and think you would realize that most of us have forgotten how to simply be.  We don’t know how to do the simplest, yet most difficult thing in existence: to watch and listen right now, in complete awareness of this moment.  In solitude, awareness provides us the space to be still, to listen instead of superficially hear.  It even allows us to overcome pain.

3 Gifts of Awareness.

Awareness allows us to:

1) Awareness allows us to notice and cherish the small miracles in nature.  A gnat in a spiders web, the color of Autumn leaves, the smell of a storm approaching, the glow of the moon on a Winter’s night.  There are an infinite number of small, seemingly irrelevant things we appreciate when we become aware of our surroundings. Usually we miss them in our daily routines, and therefore miss the gift of perceiving life as it happens around us.  Awareness allows us to develop a high level of sensitivity to our surroundings and thus experience more wonder, fascination and joy.

The Virtues of Solitude   #3 Awareness

2)   Awareness allows us to overcome pain.  This is possibly the greatest aspect of the virtue of awareness.  When we adopt a state of awareness  we are able to develop the ability to “observe” and detach ourselves from our emotions and thoughts.  When we realize that we are not our thoughts or emotions, they are simply things that come and go, we are able to transcend them, and cease suffering from our unhealthy involvement.  Awareness in this case, is essential for first acknowledging what thoughts and emotions we have, and then later, letting them pass.

3)   Awareness allows us to be more objective.  Awareness allows us to be objective by helping us to watch without reacting.  When we react, we impose our own beliefs and ideas on to the situation.  Often times, we forget to see the reality of the situation, causing ourselves to suffer from irrational fears and anxieties.  The objectivity that comes through awareness allows us to develop an inner calm which is impossible to find with mindless reactions.

Awareness is essential for experiencing childlike wonder and inner serenity.  It is an important and extremely beneficial element of solitude, that leads to the next virtue of appreciation.

The Virtues of Solitude – 2. Aloneness

There are three irreversible facts of life. We are born alone, we live alone, and we die alone.

Aloneness is in our basic nature, it is at our very roots. In reality, the world is a subjective experience through the eyes of one person alone, You.
So it is with this understanding, that I must begin this article by saying that physical aloneness is essential to solitude. Although aloneness is greatly feared and avoided, almost every spiritual teacher in history has spoken about its importance, and the need for it to be embraced and cultivated. If you’re seeking to answer the questions of life, discover who you are, and wanting to gain more internal courage and strength, seeking aloneness is an essential part of your journey.

Freedom From Illusion In Aloneness

There is a certain mirage that most of us have been seduced by, that of thinking we aren’t alone because there are people around us. These people could be anything from a close friend who shares our fun, a lover we’re emotionally bonded with, or a group we share a belief system or genetic relationship with.
The Virtues of Solitude – #2 Aloneness
Although their company may touch our depths, making us feel a part of a whole entity, when that lover is lost, or that friend is gone, those roots of aloneness are still left. We are still alone. We all know that there are things we do when we’re by ourselves, that we won’t do around other people. Only in the solitude that comes with aloneness can we be entirely free to be ourselves, providing us with the freedom to not only release all tension that comes with worrying about other people’s judgments of us, but the ability to explore ourselves freely as well. Unsurprisingly, many of the people who explore who they are in aloneness, discover they are homosexual, heavily prejudiced, mentally ill or other taboo self discoveries they never chose to be acquainted with. Aloneness allows us to escape the illusions we create about ourselves and feed to ourselves, and replace them with reality, clarity and understanding. Unfortunately however, many people, (and possibly even you), have learnt to equate aloneness with one of the most painful experiences in life: loneliness. Perhaps this is why we avoid aloneness like the plague?

Aloneness Is Not Loneliness

It’s true that externally aloneness and loneliness look exactly the same – they are both characterized by physical solitude.
Unfortunately, this is why aloneness is often falsely mistaken for loneliness. Internally, aloneness and loneliness are both completely different.
The Virtues of Solitude – #2 Aloneness
Why? Loneliness is not chosen by us, but is something imposed on us, manifesting itself as a feeling of isolation and emptiness. Loneliness occurs when we haven’t accepted our natural aloneness in life. Instead, we’re still desperately trying to fill that fear of being existentially alone with external distractions and comforts.
Aloneness, unlike loneliness, is chosen. It can be described as the beautiful feeling of being alone without being lonely. Aloneness brings the marvelous state of engagement with yourself, wherein you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company. Unlike loneliness, aloneness helps us to practice introspection and reflecting inside ourselves to discover our true natures. Not only this, but aloneness provides even deeper virtue in that it allows us to appreciate and interact better with our surroundings – the very world we so frequently ignore and take for granted.

Together Alone

The Virtues of Solitude – #2 Aloneness
On one hand, aloneness benefits us by allowing us to practice inner searching, reflection, self-growth and the exploration of our passions. In fact, thinking and creativity usually requires alone time, as does reading or artistic tendencies of any kind. Not only that but only in aloneness can we appreciate and absorb the nuances of nature and the world we live in. Being “together alone” is to relate with oneself and with all.
On the other hand, aloneness benefits our interactions with others. A lonely person is a dependent person – they search for others company to satisfy their own deficiency. Lonely people are beggars of attention. Alone people, whereas, are independent by nature. They’re centered in themselves, meaning that they don’t need others company, which provides them with a self worthy of sharing. If the alone person happens to meet someone they like, they welcome them with an open heart – they don’t exploit or take anything from the other, they simply offer their own company.
Without aloneness, an important virtue of solitude, it would be virtually impossible to find internal peace, direction, insight and interpersonal harmony.
The origin of the word Alone encapsulates this thought perfectly: ‘all’ + ‘one’ = All in Oneness.

What about you?

What opinions did you have about this article? I would love to hear your stories and experiences with aloneness below.

The Virtues of Solitude – 1 Quietness

One of the most important discoveries I’ve made in my life is that only in solitude can we discover who we truly are.

Only in solitude can we discover what our lives are about, what our personal purposes are and most essentially, develop the inner peace we need to live life fully, deeply and meaningfully.

Every person is a solitaire.  Every person is a stone set by themselves.  The truth is that not only do we experience everything in our lives in the solitary, but we can never find our purpose, peace or answers engulfed in the tides of people or society either.

My hope is that this series will inspire you to seek, at the very least, some quiet time to reflect and learn.

The Noise Trap

Have you ever felt the need for some “quiet time”?  And more importantly, have you ever asked yourself why?  It’s no secret that our society and the lives we live are the causes of such momentary spurs of exhaustion inside of us.  But why?  Not only do we feel constantly drained by the fast paced, consumer driven lives we live, but the time we have to relax and reflect is harshly limited as well.  Many of us unconsciously realize that the noisy schedules we carry, allow no time for us to live life.  Before we know it, our days, months and years pass in a blur.  It is when we emerge from our routinary, mindless days that we realize we haven’t achieved anything of meaningful importance.  We feel empty inside and outside, not knowing who we are or what true fulfillment is.  This sickly feeling is the result of one sole thing: noise.

Quietness is the Secret Ingredient

Quietness is the most essential element to solitude.  If the opposite of a virtue is a sin – have you ever thought of noise, the antithesis of quietness, as a sin?  Personally I don’t like using the word, but noise really does hinder self discovery and self fulfillment.  If a virtue is the quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, then quietness is possibly the most underrated virtue there is, and noise is the most forgotten “sin”.  Only in quiet, the absence of noisy distraction, can we focus on developing inner and outer awareness, understanding and appreciation.  But is external quietness essential to inner peace?

Quietness Internally & Externally

The Virtues of Solitude   #1 Quietness

Is outer quietness always essential for establishing inner quietness?  No.  But it helps. What does this tranquility and quietness consist of?  Inner quietness is an acceptance of yourself and the world, without any noisy conflicting expectations or desires.  It is becoming mindful of the emotions and thoughts that are not you and letting them pass in peace.  It is becoming aware of, and cherishing the beauty, fragility and transience of all life around you.  And lastly, inner quietness is making peace with yourself, your flaws and your failures, realizing that none of these are you.  They simply belonged to you. Inner quietness is the state of ultimate love and joy.

What about you?

What did you think about this article?  I would love to hear your stories and experiences with quietness below.