exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
How To Sit Quietly
In A Room Alone
Kairissi and Elenchus,
the "anthropic principle"
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Kairissi. The discussion of sitting quietly in a room alone has helped me to understand something Rilke said.
Elenchus. I like Rilke. He always saw through to the deeper meaning. But what are you thinking of?
K. He said that “the highest task … between two” who love each other should be to “stand guard over the solitude of the other.” He said that the mob of the street cares nothing for the quiet realm of solitude, which, he implied, should tell us a good deal about the value of introspection.
E. I think there’s something about this that bothers you.
K. Well… it’s just that… it’s sort of counter-intuitive; I mean, it can take a long time to find one’s true love, and then, when you finally find him, you just want to live life with him and can hardly think of being in a small room alone.
E. I know what you’re saying… before the coming of “the one,” all we did was seal ourselves away in some room, alone.
K. But, I have to confess, not so “quietly,” though. There was a lot of inner churning and boiling, a lot of refusing to “do one’s homework,” learn our lessons, with “surrender and acceptance.”
K. The truth is, and we didn’t want to admit it, or even think about it – there’s a right way and a wrong way to sit in a room alone.
E. Darling Dear – what would you like everyone to know about this?
K. There’s so much, Elenchus. And I know that so often I failed at this. It’s not easy coming to terms with oneself. I think the author is right, sitting quietly alone in a room is just about the hardest thing any human being can do.
K. The ability to sit quietly, with no compulsion to charge off to distract oneself with frantic “doing,” subsumes so much. I mean, you need a lot of things in place in your life, and in your head, to be able to do this in a good way.
E. The ego’s inner neediness – fear and craving -- sends us into the world and, by this dysfunction, say the great psychologists, civilization is created as by-product.
K. But this muddies the waters because we do need the goods-and-services of civilization; we’re not meant to live in the fields with the gophers. We begin to go wrong, though, when we realize that great accomplishment can become a prison – when we can’t do anything else but pursue these externals.
E. That is, when we can’t put aside the quest for external accomplishment and simply sit in a room alone, quietly enjoying our own existence.
K. We have so many fears and cravings that keep us in motion; inwardly, we're cooking and flailing, trying to outrun our “demons.” I think it comes down to a lack of faith. We just don’t believe that things will work out for the best for us.
E. Say more about this. I’m thinking of something Father Benson said about faith.
K. He said there’s too much emphasis on faith and not enough on facts. He was speaking of Big Religion hiding in its empty god-talk, with its emphasis on authority, promoting inscrutable mysteries, which is their way of keeping the hierarchy in a power position. Even so, there is a place for faith.
E. And how do you see faith as connected to sitting quietly alone in a room?
K. There’re a thousand answers here. We could talk about Toby the cat who got her tail stepped on and now mistrusted her master. But I think what I want to say is well expressed in the author’s “evolution” article. He was talking about the “anthropic principle.”
E. Give us a recap, Dear.
K. It’s a principle that asks the question, why is the world so well fitted for life? Intelligent Design proponents say that things are as they are because the universe is unfolding with a view toward the coming of humankind. Materialists scoff at this idea and say that we "won the lottery," somebody had to win it, and we're here only by virtue of randomness and chance. The problem with this latter notion is that the math won’t support the atheistic view. For some of the elements of the universe, it would take a duration of time equal to that of trillions of universes in order for probability to be taken seriously.
E. And that’s another way of saying that, since the universe cannot be explained by randomness and chance, we are justified in looking toward Intelligent Design for some answers.
K. And this means that the “anthropic principle” is likely to be true. And, Elenchus, here’s the significance to me personally: If I exist because an Intelligent Designer put it all in play for me, then I'm not just out there floating in space as a free agent. And this means that all of my life circumstances, everything that makes up “me,” is not just a random mix of soup. To one degree or another, there’s purpose and meaning in my life, things that happen to me happen for a purpose. It means I’m here because Somebody wanted me to be here.
K. And if I’m here because Somebody wanted me here, and has already brought me so far along my journey in life, is it reasonable to suspect, as my fears tend to suggest, that I should be abandoned now, so close to the end, and not enter into some purposeful conclusion? And if I can agree with myself that my life does have meaning, and that Somebody is monitoring my development and progress, then – I can have “faith” that I, and we, and all of us, are headed toward something good. And if I can do all this, then, I can also sit quietly in a room alone, with no requirement or desperate need to “do” something.
E. From time to time, every human being needs to quietly center oneself in this cosmic mindset.
K. And I’m sure that this is what Rilke meant when he said that lovers will guard each other’s time for sacred solitude.
E. Because this will keep them sane; which is not so unimportant, given certain events of our own past.
K. I have no idea what you're talking about.
Kairissi. I would like to say one more thing about sitting quietly in a room. Dr. Campbell called it a room of transformation. It’s where we find our true selves.
Elenchus. I take it that this wouldn’t need to be an actual room with four walls.
K. That’s right. It’s anywhere that’s a place of solitude for you. It could be a big wide-open farmer’s field. It's what Anne of Green Gables talked about.
"If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I'd do. I'd go out into a
great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I'd look up
into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as ifthere was no end to its blueness. And then I'd just feel a prayer.”
Anne of Green Gables
E. Yes – I love that.
K. It’s where we find our true selves. And I think what I want to say is that this has nothing to do with religion. People run by egos always ruin things by making rituals, creating external authority, and acting like some people are “holier than thou.”
E. Is there such a thing as some people "holier than thou"?
K. No, not really. We all have the same divine core of being; this is what makes us human. We all have the same intrinsic dignity and worthiness. And we all have the same potential access to God, though some do a very good job covering this over.
E. It’s interesting that people from different backgrounds talk about finding “the true self.” On the “surrender and acceptance” page, we find quotations concerning this process from Buddhists, Hindus, Catholic priests, and even a physicist-turned-philosopher. As you say, Kriss, finding the true self has nothing to do with being part of the right religion.
K. It’s not meant to be a religion but a universal experience. It's supposed to be part of ordinary normal living, for everyone, not "holier than thou." When we find the true self, which is also finding and experiencing God within, then we’re on the road to realizing that the external “training wheels” of religion, or even atheistic-materialistic philosophy, can be left behind.
E. No need for forms and shadows once you’ve got the reality. And I'd also like to add about "forms and shadows" that this is exactly the apostle Paul's point in Galatians, which is why he compares all religions to the ABCs of life, a nursery, or even a prison.
K. It's about becoming a truly free and mature human being, no more "training wheels," with each person setting his or her own sail according to the divine inner-guidance. And it all starts by sitting quietly alone in a room of transformation.
E. Transformation - because we transform ourselves from an immature ego-led entity to a true-self directed, mature, son or daughter of God.
at night the stars put on a show for free, and darling you can share it all with me, up on the roof…
UP ON THE ROOF (1962)
when this old world starts a-getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face, I'll climb way up to the top of the stairs, and all my cares just drift right into space, on the roof, it's peaceful as can be, and there the world below don't bother me, no, no, so when I come home feeling tired and beat, I'll go up where the air is fresh and sweet, I'll get far away from the hustling crowd, and all that rat-race noise down in the street, up on the roof, that's the only place I know, where you just have to wish to make it so, and at night the stars, they put on a show for free, and, darling, you can share it all with me, that's what I said, keep on telling you, that right smack dab in the middle of town I found a paradise that's trouble-proof, and if this old world starts a-getting you down, there's room enough for two...
Editor’s note: The very best room for transformation, the sweetest place to be alone, is where you can be alone, together, with someone you love.