More and more, I am realizing that I still have much to learn about who I am, who I am not, how it differs from who I want to be, and how all of that affects my writing. Self-knowledge, however, requires something harder and harder to come by these days: solitude.
In one of his “Letters to a Young Poet,” Rainer Maria Rilke advised, “What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude”:
“[W]hen you notice that [solitude] is vast, you should be happy; for what (you should ask yourself) would a solitude be that was not vast; there is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy. . . . But perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours—that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grown-ups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn’t understand a thing about what they were doing.” ~ Rilke
Solitude is often vast and painful because it forces us to turn from the busy distractions of life and society with their fleeting satisfactions to confront ourselves as we are. This self-knowledge that must precede self-acceptance goes beyond thinking of “the good and the bad” within us. Those categories just get in the way of seeing life as it is and ourselves as we are. No, what we are seeking is the nonjudgmental nature of mindfulness.
Finding time for even a little mindfulness practice in the middle of our busy days not only helps us to know ourselves better but also, as Andy Puddicombe says in his TED Talk on the topic, gives us “the opportunity, the potential to step back and to get a different perspective, to see that things aren’t always as they appear. We can’t change every little thing that happens to us in life, but we can change the way that we experience it.”
Watch Puddicombe, below, talk about how to add 10 minutes of mindfulness to our days (then, if you are a fan of The Who, listen to the ultimate “Who Are You?” meditation).