I met some really incredible people at last week’s TED conference, and Rabbi David Wolpe was one of them. Here he is on the power of solitude:
“When he was a child, the Seer of Lublin (later a famous Hasidic master) used to go off into the woods by himself. When his father, worried, asked him why, he said “I go there to find God.” His father said to him, ”But my son, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “God is” said the boy, “but I’m not.”
Solitude is the school of the soul. Why was it Pascal who said that all of our problems come from not being able to be in a room alone? Not solely because he was an introvert, but because he was a deeply faithful man and religion not only emphasizes community but helps cultivate solitude. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai,” says a classic rabbinic text, and Abravanel, the 15th century commentator, asks — why Sinai? Why not “from God?” His answer is not that Sinai is a synecdoche — that it stands for God — but rather that Moses needed the experience of aloneness on Sinai to be ready to receive the Torah. No mountain solitude, no revelation.
Introverts people their solitude — with books, with imagination, sometimes with God. Hitbodedut, aloneness, is a traditional Hasidic practice in which the worshipper goes off alone. Sometimes he will scream, or cry, or contemplate, but it is essential that the eyes of the world do not push or pull in that moment. Influence is important, but in aloneness is freedom. Those of us who stand on the side at the party, or prefer not to go, do not devalue others. We just find that we can be truest to them when we have stored up quiet moments in the private reservoir that nourishes our souls.”
If you’d like to know more about Rabbi David Wolpe and his work, please go here:
- What to Read This Weekend: The End of Solitude
- What to Read This Weekend: Why Nice Baboons Finish First, Leadership Requires Solitude, and Humans are Naturally Empathic
I could not agree more. I find that the busier my life becomes the more this solitude and meditation is essential to staying in synch with my true self. So much clamors for my attention that it is easy to lost touch with my inner self and lose that God given inner tranquility. THANK you for sharing this with us!!
A book which has helped me greatly over the years is Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline.” He devotes a chapter to each of the classic spiritual disciplines: simplicity, worship, study, confession, celebration, etc. One chapter to which I am repeatedly drawn is the chapter on solitude. The peace and renewal of that discipline is so necessary-and so hard to come by. I am nowhere near the point of practice where I can be in solitude even among a crowd, but I hope to arrive there someday.
What a coincidence. Just yesterday, I finished reading David Wolpe’s “Making Loss Matter”. He is a gifted writer. Thanks for sharing his thoughts on solitude.
I really identify with the son who, when his father told him that “God is the same everywhere, replied, “God is, but I’m not.”
Introverts need solitude not only for nourishment (as Jung and others have so wisely noted, introverts withdraw so that they can recharge their batteries), but also because they often can’t be authentic or true to themselves in the presence of others. Because the extroverts tend to trample all over us, we can often come to feel as if we don’t even exist when we’re around them. Solitude allows us to exist as we are, and not as others wish us to be.
Solitude nourishes us because it is our natural, organic state-just as community is the natural, organic state of the extrovert. Ironically, we’re at our best, we’re most ourselves when there’s no one around to see us.
How about that for an existential dilemma?
“Solitude is the school of the soul.” I LOVE that statement!
As a devout Christian, reading Ruth Haley Barton’s INVITATION TO SOLITUDE AND SILENCE about 5 years ago was a huge game-changer for me. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to be alone and still with God until I devoured her book and began practices that allowed myself to be stilled in His presence on a regular basis.
I vaguely knew then that I was an introvert, but only since reading Adam McHugh’s INTROVERTS IN THE CHURCH have I realized the great affect my introvertedness has had on how I practice my faith … and vice versa. I began to prize how I had been created instead of feeling “less than” because I tended to shy away from crowds and the spotlight, craving instead peace, stillness, and a back row seat where I could simply observe and soak up what was happening around me. My calling and work as a pastoral counselor now made complete sense. This began the process of many “aha” moments as many things in my life began to fall into place.
I am really enjoying your book, Susan, and seeing how the nature we’ve been given plays out in the culture.
I love this article and I am looking for to reading your book. I am not afraid to be alone. It’s nice to know that I am not the only one. Thank-you!
Great thoughts, Susan!
As you mentioned, I think Jesus Christ gives us a great example of going off alone and taking time to pray. Like a branch on a tree, I must stay connected to Jesus to keep thriving. He brings true peace, complete forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and the power to live for God. I hope that you can take the time to seek God through His Son, Jesus.
He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)It’s worth the time to find out what He’s all about.
I love this story of the Seer of Lublin. Initially, we need quiet to discover our true spirit. Once this awareness is stabilized, and that takes considerable time for most of us, we will find our true spirit / God everywhere.
I agree with Rabbi Wolpe’s sentiments for the most part. I agree that aloneness is a vital component to finding freedom, but freedom doesn’t exist only in aloneness. And being alone doesn’t necessarily guarantee freedom.
Thank you for the inspiration!