GNL number 20


a report of doings at meeting #20, Sunday, March 8, 2009
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


Solitude makes us tougher toward ourselves and tenderer toward others; in both ways it improves our character.
—-Friedrich Nietzsche

One can acquire anything in solitude, except character.


Chris, who had suggested today’s topic, SOLITUDE, was home still recovering from bronchitis, but we started the conversation with the quotes, personal commentary, and this note of introduction that she sent: “Solitude has the potential to be both one of the greatest states we can be in, and one of the most hurtful, if not dangerous. I’ve tried to find quotes that present both.” See AFTERWORDS for these quotes and comment.

Anna commented on an aspect of solitude that’s more lonely when people are living without a companion or family, and how sometimes one has to remind oneself it’s possible to call others when not hearing from people. She spoke of her coming hip-replacement surgery and appreciating the offers of help from friends, and how she’ll be doing more friend-calling in the next several weeks of recovery.

Jack had long kept the contemplative practices of daily prayer and journal writing, but spoke of the adjustment he’s had to make to the almost constant presence of his caregivers, especially since coming home from the hospital—many different people, and with different styles and points of view. He also remembered from his Quaker days the meditative silence of the Friends Meeting, where thoughts or guidance are allowed to come forth when one is so moved.

Ann read her quotes, from Thomas Merton, and personal notes on the theme, describing how she often found natural moments of contemplative solitude driving her familiar bus routes at work, and especially outdoors when she is out alone kayaking on the Mohawk River. She also voiced a belief that probably many veterans have difficulty with solitude. See AFTERWORDS for her notes and quotes.

Sue said a morning practice in solitude to open the day was very important to her, and one she loves. She also spoke of the difficulty she remembered in finding the solitude she needed when living with others, especially as a mother, which of course resonated with the rest of us. She recalled the deeply valuable advice she’d got in those years, to make time each day to write a 15-minute poem, which not only helped keep her afloat, but led to a blossoming of more poems. She read an Emily Dickinson poem and other quotations, for which please see AFTERWORDS.

Gail was pleased to note how lately (whether from extra B-12 or other factors) she’s felt a lifting of the strain to get “her time” and her things done on her own terms. And that she’d been working with Cliff, which he appreciates, and enjoying it, as well as finding “own” time is there too.

Adair asked a big basic question related to our theme: Are we, all earthlings, alone here in this universe? Or is there other maybe unimaginable life out there somewhere? And the thought of a possible Yes, Alone answer was particularly disturbing to her in light of the way our species has failed to appreciate, and even abused its home. She recalled that stunning astronaut photo of the beautiful blue marble glowing in black space, and wished, with all of us, to invoke this image to every living soul: the living earth as a precious, rare, perhaps solitary jewel.

Cynthia brought her own ode to solitude (and chocolate), which she read to us with such feeling we could taste it too. And it’s a good thing a few minutes later we had some for lunch. See AFTERWORDS.

Nancy found the foregoing conversation expressed her feelings, but she underlined how we all need some solitude and how real, conscious solitude leads not to retreat, but the reverse, more connection with others, the other “me’s” also struggling to find their way. She also cited the music of historically oppressed peoples like African-Americans (and Jews and Irish) as especially touching her with their sound of lonely sorrow turned into shared human song, as in the blues which she has loved since she was a girl. See AFTERWORDS for quotes.

And in conclusion before sharing lunch, we shared five minutes of silence in thought of Anna’s coming surgery and our own reflections.


One of the most vital things we must all learn is never taught in school: how to be alone with ourselves.
—–Ezra Bayda

NEXT TIME: A WEEK EARLY-–Sunday, April 5 (1030), again at Jack’s, on Jay Street, Cobleskill. The topic (suggested by Skippy friend Donna Veeder, and Sue) is REST/SABBATH.


from Chris:

Quotations on Solitude

Of course,
From Thoreau: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
And also: I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

From Colette: There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.

From Paul Tillich: Language has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.

From Pearl Buck: Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up.

From Eric Hoffer: With some people, solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves. For they see in others only a reflection of themselves.

From Morris Adler: We visit others as a matter of social obligation. How long has it been since we have visited with ourselves?

From the Simpsons: Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known…and then went crazy as a loon.

Personal Thoughts on Solitude

( I’m going to start off with another quotation, just to be able to get one in—
From Rilke: It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.)

Solitude is something that pulls me vigorously in both directions, and so I was not surprised one iota to find several quotations that spoke to this. On the one hand, I crave it. My husband built me a little writer’s hut in our woods so that I would have a place to go and be with my thoughts and my books, and to write. (You are all welcome to come see it, but it would only hold about six at a time!) Also, at least twice a year, I go to Maine for 4 days, alone, again with my thoughts and my books, to gather my wits about me and figure how I’m doing and where I’m headed. My figuring usually gets lost somewhere in the waves, the shopping, reading and sleeping, and I usually come home feeling that’s okay too—to simply get away and NOT think, or come up with anything profound in all of four days. What I DO realize , each trip, is that I need more of that. I have more journals and books on solitude and serenity and quiet than you could shake an entire cord of wood at, but do I use them? Usually, the answer is no. I have a stack of books full of restful photography, calming writing, soothing poetry, the Thoreau/Mary Oliver shelf, and photos from Maine, Key West, Nova Scotia, places I’ve been and loved—but do I look at them? Not often. Certainly not enough.

I realize after I wrote that, that what I need to do is learn to “practice” solitude in smaller doses, which surely I could find in my life. I even have a place to go for my “lessons”!! I simply need to learn how to go there and reap the benefits in perhaps as small a period of time as fifteen minutes. I really don’t need to go all the way to Maine.

Solitude haunts me, and I resist. When Paul is gone on business, I relish having the time alone at home. And yet, the television goes on constantly. In fact, I can’t go to sleep without it. It is as if I’m somehow afraid of what I will hear, while at the same time, I know with all my heart that I need to LISTEN.

Solitude, to me, affords that opportunity for me to listen to myself, once and for all. I imagine that I have been sitting on my shoulder—this little girl, this Chrissie, if you will, perched there for decades, swinging her legs against my collarbone—and if I don’t listen for a long while, she kicks me even harder to get me to pay attention. I am afraid, now that I’m in my sixties, that I have gone through most of my life not paying attention to her, not listening. It isn’t that I haven’t had solitude, the time to do that, wherewithall, the knowledge that that’s important. I’ve simply been afraid. And isn’t that absolutely nuts? To be afraid to speak with yourself!

Perhaps I’m not “alone” in that!

And as I write this, in solitude, I miss and love you all!

from Ann:

Personal Thoughts

In solitude is when I’m at my best, most angry, most honest/truthful, “freeist”thinking, least bound by convention, funniest (i think), loopiest, most emotional, most connected.

Have the time and space to rotate, tilt, stand back from, toss up, consider, and examine from many angles, people, thoughts and questions.

Not alone, not lonely, in solitude. (Not an intentional 6 w)

In my boat, with my dog, on the Mohawk.

“If a man does not know the value of his own loneliness, how can he respect another’s solitude?
—-Thomas Merton

It is at once our loneliness and our dignity to have an incommunicable personality that is ours, ours alone and no one else’s, and will be so forever.

When human society fulfills its true function, the persons who form it grow more and more in their individual freedom and personal integrity. And the more each individual develops and discovers the secret resources of his own incommunicable personality, the more he can contribute to the life and the weal of the whole. Solitude is as necessary for society as silence is for language and air is for the lungs and food for the body.

A community that seeks to invade or destroy the spiritual solitude of the individuals who compose it is condemning iself to death by spiriual asphyxiation.”
—–from No Man is an Island (1983)

from Sue:

A little summary of what I said: I’ve always needed solitude. When the kids were little and I had work and lots of people always around I really craved it and had no space in my house to find it. But I began writing a 15 minute poem each day at my typewriter in the living room, when I put Sarah down for a nap, and that was the essential kernel in my day from which other solitary time would sometimes grow.

I have always used my solitude to write. In recent years I also meditate, and pray. I wait for things to come to rest in my and then see what rises by itself to the surface. It’s essential for me to do this, I’m not “all right” when I don’t do it.
In retirement, I’ve learned that Jay and I can live together while giving each other a lot space for one another’s solitude. It happens by itself now. And I’ve experienced a wonderful intensifying of solitude while sitting in large groups of people–at Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation retreats and other gatherings.

Sue’s quotes on solitude

sol·i·tude n. 1. The state or quality of being alone or remote from others. [from Latin s½lit¿d½, from s½lus, alone. See s(w)e- below.]

s(w)e-. Important derivatives are: self, gossip, bustle1, suicide, secede, seclude, secret, secure, sedition, seduce, segregate, select, separate, sure, sober, sole2, solitary, solitude, solo, sullen, desolate, soliloquy, custom, ethic, ethnic, idiom, idiot, idiosyncrasy.

b. SWAMI, from Sanskrit sv³min, “one’s own master,” owner, prince, from sva- (< *swo-), one’s own. SOBER, from Latin compound s½brius, not drunk 12. *swe-tos, from oneself. KHEDIVE, from Old Iranian khvad³ta-, lord, *khvat½-d³ta-, created from oneself


“I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It’s the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself.”
~Peter Hoeq (Danish fiction writer)

“Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.”
~Alice Koller (author-wrote An Unknown Woman & Stations of Solitude

“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
~Paul Tillich

I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.”
~Rainer Marie Rilke

“an elegant sufficiency, content,/Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books”
~James Thomson, English poet, (1700-1748).

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself-
Finite Infinity.
~#1695, Emily Dickinson

and from Rabbi Shefa Gold, Torah Journeys, P. 79:

“I often say, ‘My first practice is sanity.’ Sanity for me is the condition that allows for the full functioning of my body, feelings, thoughts and awareness, which then allows me to be present for revelation. Sanity requires just the right balance of solitude and service, spaciousness and stimulation.”

“ The practice for this week….is to do an honest accounting of:
our minimum daily, weekly, monthly and yearly requirements, for solitude, silence, wilderness, learning, music, dance, meditation, pleasure, beauty, nourishment, intimacy, rest, reatreat time—whatever it is that is required in order to feel truly whole and fully alive. After contemplating your requirements, write them down and share them with a Spirit Buddy. Then take out your appointment book.”

from Cynthia:


Solitude is a sweet, delicious treat, like a dark chocolate bar.
Sometimes I crave it.
I hunt it down and choose the best I can afford—selecting quality over quantity,
having no intention of sharing it.
I unwrap it carefully—exposing the familiar substance, releasing
its fragrance and admiring its perfectly measured rectangles.
I break off one portion and quickly consume it. I t melts away,
leaving only smudges on my fingers and a longing for more.
I nip off another—and another….soon it is gone but the taste
lingers and I am satisfied.

From Nancy:

The basic pain of feeling separate and disconnected is a fundamental human experience. Yet when we consciously reside in the physical feeling of separation, we come closer to recognizing its insubstantiality. Continually bringing the light of awareness to our viscerally held beliefs, our pretenses, our protection, our anxieties, begins to dissolve these self-imposed boundaries, the boundaries that block awareness of the vast reality of being. This is the slow, transformative path to freedom.
—-Ezra Bayda

The willingness to let loneliness just be is the only way to transcend it.

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letter,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of one its living roots
A dream once lost
among the sorrows and songs.

—-Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

I merely took the energy it takes to pout,
and wrote some blues.
—-jazz musician Duke Ellington


At least two more great ideas surfaced post-meeting: first, Christine’s vivid little Chrissie image suggests that at some future meeting we should each bring a photo of ourselves at age 4 or so, right? And second, after all these fabulous lunches, we obviously must make a Skippy cookbook, and with the $millions in proceeds all go on a field trip to Nancy’s daughter Mary’s in France, right?


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