We know more from nature than we can at will communicate. Its light flows into the mind evermore, and we forget its presence. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sometimes we all need to be alone.
But what is, alone? It can be very different to different people. Is it sitting in your room, by yourself, reading a book or playing a video game? Is it meditating in your living room before anyone else in the house is awake? Is it writing in your journal before bed?
For me, being alone is being disconnected from humanity, and you can’t truly find that in your home. Being alone is being outside, in solitude, where nature is in control, and the luxuries of humanity are stripped away.
Over the years I’ve been, unknowingly, moving toward making a connection between my inclination for being alone, and my love for nature, and how the two are deeply interconnected. Over the past months, I’ve been doing some reading on mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn, and reading some passages from Henry David Thoreau, and his thoughts on nature and solitude.
These readings have led me to what I’m currently reading, the famous essay, Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’m not terribly far into it yet, but I am already struck by Emerson’s writing, particularly the incredibly intricate substance within it, and the way he’s able to draw the connections between nature, solitude, mindfulness, and the link of these things with one’s spirituality, and self-awareness.
In the woods we return to reason and faith. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Depending on your beliefs, the above quote from Emerson’s Nature could be interpreted in many different ways, and I believe this was Emerson’s intention. To a Christian, the word faith may represent faith in God. As an Agnostic myself, I believe the word faith resembles a faith and trust in the workings of nature. A faith that although nature can be brutal and full of death, that very death leads to new life, and that there is some type of connection between ourselves and the trees and the other animals that walk on earth (granted, this is my own elementary interpretation, and I don’t claim to be a literary critic, trying to decipher Emerson’s true meaning behind his writing).
Nonetheless, this is how it strikes me, and whatever you choose to believe in, nature is a constant, and immersing oneself in it is the best way I know of to reboot ourselves mentally, and refresh our connection with the nature around us that we are deeply intertwined with as humans, and in turn, reconnecting with our own awareness.
Finding true aloneness is difficult when you live in a town or city. Typically, you have to drive or bike somewhere to disconnect from humanity, which is fine and all, but it’s not like living out in farm country, or on a mountainside, or on a prairie miles from town. Living somewhere where you can walk off your back porch and find your little parcel of aloneness and connect with nature.
The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve got it pretty good living in a small town like Moscow, since I’m just a short drive from places where I can find that aloneness, but nonetheless, I pine for the solitude that comes from living outside the city limits, and being able to look out the window at something other than houses, buildings, and cars. I constantly find myself standing on the front porch or staring out our kitchen window at just the tops of Paradise Ridge or Tomer Butte barely visible off in the distance, my view of them mostly obstructed by trees, the University of Idaho’s buildings, and the houses of the neighborhood we’re surrounded by.
There are benefits to living in town, such as being closer to stores, entertainment, and work, or being able to walk somewhere for breakfast on a Saturday morning, or jumping on the nice paved Chipman Trail bike path for a smooth ride to Pullman.
The poet, the orator, bred in the woods, whose senses have been nourished by their fair and appeasing changes, year after year, without design and without heed, — shall not lose their lesson altogether, in the roar of cities or the broil of politics. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
But in the end, I know I’ll end up living out of town eventually, which is how I was raised, north of Pasco, Washington in Columbia Basin farm country. I feel incredibly lucky that I
was able to benefit from being brought up in relative solitude, without even realizing I was learning, and soaking up nature like a sponge.
Since moving to Moscow, it’s been difficult to capture that feeling of aloneness that I’ve grown accustomed to, and yearn for, in my life. At my apartment in Pullman, with a short walk I could find a little sliver of nature and aloneness at the nearby Magpie Forest, where I could revel in the beauty of the Palouse from atop a few prairie-grass laden knolls, with Moscow Mountain off to the east, and Kamiak Butte to the north. I could even get a little lost in the nearby woods where trails snake throughout the clusters of Black Hawthorn trees.
Where we live in Moscow, we’re in the middle of a small older neighborhood, with really nowhere to venture to other than Lieuallen Park, a quite small park with houses lined along one side of it, at the top of a hill. I’m grateful to have a nice little park nearby where I can toss a Frisbee or tennis ball for Maizy, and I enjoy the view of Moscow Mountain from atop the hill, but I’m never alone there. People drive by, dogs bark, kids play on the nearby playground, and the sounds of the small city of Moscow below still fill my ears and cloud my thoughts.
To some, achieving a certain type of aloneness, and/or living in it, doesn’t matter too much. But I know there are a lot of people just like me, in big cities and rural areas alike, that pine for the solitude that being truly alone – without the sounds, sights, and textures of man – provides for the human psyche.
These facts may suggest the advantage which the country-life possesses, for a powerful mind, over the artificial and curtailed life of cities. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Being alone – whether hiking Storm King in the Olympics, hunting for pheasant along a Palouse-prairie creek-bed, meditating at the top of Kamiak Butte, or stepping off your back porch in Eltopia farm country and walking down a dirt road in a nearby alfalfa field – gives our minds the chance to reboot and connect with nature, and ourselves, on a level that can’t be attained when manmade distraction and interference is present (that especially includes the biggest time waster ever invented: Your smartphone, which I have a hard time leaving behind too, because “what if I want to take a snap/picture of something pretty?!”).
My thoughts on nature, and solitude, and mindfulness, are far from coming into focus still. I can recognize, and feel in my bones, the incredible importance of it all, but I cannot yet make sense of my feelings on it just yet, or bring my thoughts all into clear focus. Maybe that’s the point, and maybe there is no sense to be made, even though we as humans seem to have an insatiable urge to make everything matter, and for everything to have some type of purpose or meaning. Maybe I’m slowly realizing – like Jim Carrey has said in recent years since his spiritual rebirth – that none of us really matter in the way that we think we matter, and simply being present and experiencing life is what’s important.
As I continue this journey with Emerson, Thoreau, others, and of course myself, I’ll continue to write about these thoughts and musings about nature, solitude, mindfulness, and being alone. Maybe someday it will all finally click in a way that I can truly express what I’m searching for, or maybe not, but either way, I hope you’ll join me on my search. Have a great week everyone.
The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. In their eternal calm, he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough. – Ralph Waldo Emerson