The Pursuit of Inner Solitude
Posted on November 2, 2013
The growth of cities have seen the shrinking of work spaces and living spaces. As more people attempt to capitalise on where opportunities are to be found, cities get painfully packed. Industrious planners have toiled for years to compact as many brilliant minds as possible into smaller square feet of space. Without a hinterland to run to, it could be difficult to find a quiet place to muse, to work and ponder.
However, escaping inwards could be an answer to find a quiet space within where you can come to yourself, clarify your thoughts, or just sit in awareness. This ‘retreat in daily life’ can be taken in a closed room, or a noisy bus. Nonetheless, free meditation support groups have asserted that if one can achieve just ten minutes of stillness, it is beneficial for rooting oneself in the causes that one lives for, gives greater impetus, increased motivation to strive for the end goal you have in mind, or achieving a greater awareness of self.
An increasing number of youths have also embraced meditation or forms of meditation as a compass to guide them through life. Even though, doing nothing in the midst of meditation is one of the hardest things to achieve in our rapidly paced, urgent world. Never mind also that attention spans are becoming shorter (see article by Daylon Soh—Death to Brainstorming.)
25 year old Kiyoko Ong, a member of Singapore Soka Association said, “Most importantly, it teaches me to respect all human beings as everyone has buddhahood or Buddha nature in them. That’s the first step towards compassion.”
Upon examining some religions and belief systems, one finds that meditation, or some form of pursuing silence, quiet, reflective thinking, is the basis of most of the worlds’ oldest religions. Here’s a look at how different belief systems embrace the pursuit of inner solitude.
Meditation is most commonly associated with Buddhism, as the very statue of Buddha embodies the posture and the attitude of someone sitting in meditative silence. Meditation, is a physical and mental position taken, where a person sets aside their thoughts, emotions, actions and embraces the quiet of just being still and completely aware of their entire being. Buddhism is a way of life and they believe in karma where humans are continually reincarnated until they attain Nirvana. Meditation helps them be mindful of thoughts and actions as they attempt to attain wisdom and understanding to answer some of humanity’s rhetorical questions “Why do we suffer?”
Meditation in Buddhism is believed to have originated in India and is known as Vipassana Meditation which describes how individuals can tap on inner energy to eliminate mental impurities which can even result in the curing of illnesses in the body and provide healing from universal human suffering. Practitioners of Vipassana also focus on the breath and bodily sensations in order to bring the mind and body in even greater connection and awareness.
Wolfgang Maehr had been unfamiliar with meditation but this did not prevent him from reaping the benefits of the ten day retreat which he went through in Jaipur, India. The International Vipassana programme is open to anyone interested in the technique which is free of charge; the retreat is supported by donations from people who have completed the programme.
“It mostly sharpened my self-awareness and mental presence by learning that it sometimes is useful to stop and only observe and that it is a very useful thing to learn and practice,” said the 31-year-old Austrian, now based in Singapore.
Buddhism spread to various countries such as Myanmar, Tibet, China, Central Asia and Japan. In Japan, Nichiren Buddhism, the branch of Buddhism based on the teachings of 13th Century Japanese Buddhist Nichiren Daishonin is practiced. He had composed the Lotus Sutra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” which is recited by followers in about 192 countries and territories.
Their Belief: Buddhist scripture believes that “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” Dhammapada Chapter 1:1-2
A street poll of ten persons revealed that the top of mind word associated with meditation was Buddhism. Additionally, this practice has also been taken up by other religions.
Their Practice: Focusing their energies on a single object, a lotus flower, a candle flame. The meditator involves both body and mind in the process of emptying himself/herself. Concentrated chanting is also used to focus attention on the body.
Similarly, the monotheistic religion of Sikhism embraces the practice of meditation. Sikhs believe that prayer and meditation are required in coming into a positive state of mind and helps overcome one’s ego.
Their Belief: A Sikh’s personal life should encompass
(i) meditation on Nam (Divine Substance) and the scriptures found in Guru Granth Sahib,
(ii) leading life according to the Gurus’ teachings and
(iii) acts of altruism
Extracted from the Official Sikh Code of Conduct, A Sikh’s Personal Life, Chapter III, Article III
Their Practice: Sikhs meditate while cross-legged on the floor and audibly recite “Waheguru” which means God. It can also take the form of reading scripture or reciting a series of morning, evening, bedtime prayers, while seated or standing.
Sufism (Tasawwuf) as one aspect Islam also practices this as a way to come into the presence of the Divine Allah. Sufis are pious Muslims who pray five times daily, do charitable deeds, fast during Ramadhan and other outward practices of Islam. Their spirituality is an additional, distinguishing feature of their practice vis a vis other Muslims.
Their Belief: It is a “dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.”
Ibn Khaldun, quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islam, 1995
Their Practice: Jonathan Shear wrote about the Sufi meditation of the Heart which recommends the focus of feeling of love within the heart rather than attempting to still and to eliminate one’s thoughts in a sitting position or lying down. This meditation which focuses on how the heart feels when it encounters love, is a practice that drowns the mind in love and leaves no other space for other thoughts.
Christians call it Christian meditation. Catholics call this Ignatian Contemplation. Both involve achieving outer as well as inner silence and are focused on their Holy Book, the Bible.
Their Belief: A monotheistic faith, they believe in God as their creator whose son Jesus Christ died as salvation for the world. A majority of Christians accept that in order to be granted eternal life in paradise, they must believe that God’s son, Jesus, died on the cross to save them from inherent human weaknesses.
Their Practice: Meditation is practiced by several denominations of Christianity like Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists to name a few. The Catholics use Ignatian Contemplation uses imagination to bring to life a section of selected text in their Holy Book called the Bible and to place the person in meditation in the centre of the scene, whether as one of the characters in the story being told or as God himself in it. From this, the meditator sits in the comfortable silence of the presence of God and is encouraged to converse honestly with Him. Christians also believe in meditating on the word of God to surrender themselves to His will.
Most of meditation mentioned above in formal religions requires a focus of attention on a particular God. Humanists, comprising of atheists, agnostics and nihilists subscribe to a belief system where there is no God, have also adopted meditation as a practice for dealing with stress and for focusing attention.
Their Belief: Meditation is the art of consciously directed attention and improves concentration and focus. In practicing inner and outer mindfulness as a practicing Humanist, they engage in contemplative practices to be able to explore new ways of thought, to appreciate the abstract or pursue spirituality in a naturalist context. Humanists also strive to be virtuous and to display compassion.
Their Practice: DT Strain recommends sitting up straight to meditate is recommended to breathe well and focus on breathing. His technique involves relaxing the body, to identify tense muscles that need to be relaxed. Thereafter, in a relaxed position, one can focus on counting from 1 to 5 repeatedly, to empty the mind.
Hence, society does acknowledge the need for quiet because it can be a good source of inspiration for the creative process. This is because new ideas, original thought, do not come from what exists but from the limitless imagination of what has not yet taken place and what has yet not yet been formed. This opens up new potential sources of ideas for solving some of the most perennial problems we face in life, such as constant tiredness, lethargy and inability to think new thoughts.
Scientific research has shown that meditation has benefited its practitioners in opening their worldviews, brain research has shown meditators reduce the overactivity of the medial prefrontal cortex which focuses on the self, and simultaneously enhances the ability to assess the situation from the third person point of view, which the lateral prefrontal cortex is in charge of.
We often look outwards for inspiration and for answers when faced with confusion and trouble when in fact, “the only journey is the one within” — Rainer Maria Rilke. In addition to a centre of peace to come back to, we may find new solutions, new sources for ideas by pursuing inner solitude, quiet, in meditation.