It was quite popular to have a posterized copy of the poem on your wall back in the 60's and 70's. You may also have had a poster of a solitary figure on top of mountain, or fishing in a beautiful river, with "alone but not lonely" imprinted on it. Maybe a poster of Steve McQueen jumping a motorcycle over a fence...but I digress.
The opening sentence of the Desiderata talks about a form of solitude,
"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."That sounds good but how might you do that?
First lets define what we mean by "solitude". Websters online says a definition of solitude is "the quality or state of being alone or remote from society."
Therefore you can find solitude by being physically alone or by by being remote from society.
Since you probably can't be physically alone all the time, and wouldn't want to if you could, we will choose being remote from society as our path to solitude - so that we might occasionally "go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence."
Being remote from society...probably requires turning off the TV, getting off our computers and putting down our cell phones for awhile. I say probably because if you are using your TV, computer or cell phone to access something "that is remote from society" then it doesn't break your cone of solitude.
If you are using your TV, computer or cell phone to access some non-trending things - like history, educational programs, philosophy, literature, theology or art you are safely removed from the destructive effects that society and popular culture have on the ability of an individual to continue to construct a "self" by increasing their knowledge of themselves and the world they live in. In order to do that you will need some solitude.
The good news here is that you don't need to go into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights eating locusts and wild honey, or build a small cabin beside Walden Pond, in order to find solitude.
Rather than just going cold turkey on the whole "shut out the outside world thing" we have to prepare ourselves to be able to live with our self. Who knows - it might be a bad thing, or an impossible thing, to shut out the outside world and just be with your self?
You have to prepare yourself for solitude.
Buddhist meditative practices where we concentrate on our breathing to quiet our monkey mind is one path. If you are curious about Buddhism, the PBS film The Buddha by David Grubin narrated by Richard Gere is one of my favorites.
Contemplative Prayer sometimes called Centering Prayer is another discipline preparing a person to be able to sit doing, and at times thinking, nothing.
The idea of either of these practices is similar - quieting your mind in order to prepare for some form of higher consciousness.
In the Buddhist case by recognizing the beauty in transitory things, seeing that their transitory nature makes them all the more precious and working toward a state of being that allows one to live a life of joy in that tension.
In the Christian case by experiencing God (the unknowable) in that quiet place and realizing the concept of the trinity in Christian belief tells us that we are part of God and God is part of us - when we are filled (or touched a bit) by the holy spirit.
Both these practices teach us to focus on the here and now - the moment, rather than worrying about what happened in the past or what may happen in the future.
The end goal of either practice being to reach a state of equanimity.
We are all children of the universe - having originated from stardust we will return to that state when the star we call the sun explodes in 6 billion years (give or take a billion or so). If the big crunch theory is right the universe will eventually contract and the show will start all over again with a big bang. In the meantime be sure and hug all your favorite pieces of stardust.
I realize that sounds kind of new-agey and woo woo but it doesn't sound any more strange to me than to say God put the first man on earth and made the first woman out of that man's rib.
I have to rely on what science can tell us, but I don't have to think science can tell us everything. It takes an enormous amount of foolish pride to think otherwise.
Having utter faith in science and reason - leads to the disenchantment of our world; and on a purely practical level has, and is, leading to all sorts of surprises from Mother Nature.
On the plus side there is an Enchanted Village south of here ;-)
BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time has a podcast on the Philosophy of Solitude if any of this piques your interest. The description of the podcast on the BBC website says,
"Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of solitude. The state of being alone can arise for many different reasons: imprisonment, exile or personal choice. It can be prompted by religious belief, personal necessity or a philosophical need for solitary contemplation. Many thinkers have dealt with the subject, from Plato and Aristotle to Hannah Arendt. It's a philosophical tradition that takes in medieval religious mystics, the work of Montaigne and Adam Smith, and the great American poets of solitude Thoreau and Emerson."
The basic revelation of the Gospel is the overwhelming, penetrating presence of God.
It is a call to encounter God, and God allows himself to be encountered only in solitude.
It would seem that this solitude is something that those who live among the people of the world would have to forego. But this would be to believe we precede God in solitude, while, on the contrary, it is he who waits there for us; to find God is to find solitude, because true solitude is spirit, and all of our efforts at human solitude are merely relative approaches toward the perfect solitude that is faith.
True solitude is not the absence of people, but the presence of God.
To place our lives before the face of God, to surrender our lives to the movements of God, is to roam free in a space in which we have been given solitude.
If the eruption of God's presence in us occurs in silence and solitude, it allows us to remain thrown among, mixed up with, radically joined to all of the people who are made of the same clay as we are.
She said clay - I say stardust..same difference and in any event it's a miracle to be here now.
May we all someday live in peace.