The Joys of Solitude
- Sivaram Srikandath
Story Dated: Sunday, July 15, 2012 19:5 hrs IST
I have a medical condition that I find is better attended to by ayurvedic, rather than allopathic medicine. So once a year, I take off for 21 days and submit myself to the rigors of a full monty ayurveda treatment - abhayanga, shirodhara, kizhi and vasti - along with the accompanying regimen of arishtams, kashayams, ghrithams and gulikas and a prescribed diet. For three weeks, I am the ideal patient as I follow the doctors' instructions to the letter; and then for another three weeks, I try to follow a regimen of "nalla irrikkal" or prescribed "good conduct" at home, so that the full benefits of the treatment kick in. Ayurveda, unlike allopathy, does not provide an immediate cure; it works best with lifestyle changes and the patient must have faith both in the doctor and in the prescribed treatment before the desired long term effects begin to manifest themselves. I for one, take my ayurveda treatment quite seriously and I am committed to it for the long run.
In addition to the therapeutic effects that the treatment has on my health, what I enjoy most about my ayurvedic sojourn is the twenty one days of solitude that it offers me. The typical day begins at 6.00 am when you have your first dose of kashayam, and then it meanders along in a lazy sort of manner to the unhurried rhythm of different medications and treatments, and finally ends after an early dinner that is followed by more medicines and a glass of medicated milk. During the day, one is supposed to do nothing in particular - just take complete rest and allow the mind and body to follow its own natural pace. You are expected to take things real easy and are encouraged not to strain your mind or eyes by reading too much or watching a lot of TV. In short, take a break far away from the madding crowd, literally and metaporically !
To be candid though, I did cheat a wee bit. I brought along with me a few of my favourite books as well as my laptop that provided me the occasional connectivity that I needed to the external world.
I found this experience of solitude quite enjoyable, and even invigorating. I had all the privacy and quiet I needed. For twenty one days, I was by myself, away from the hustle and bustle of the quotidian routines of life. Of course, when you are in an ayurveda center, there are other patients around, and it is inevitable that one will run into busybodies who think they have an obligation to spread cheer and goodwill all around (and lots of it I might add!) by introducing themselves to everyone they meet in the dining room in a Hail Fellow Well Met attitude of aggressive bonhomie and condescending patronage. But once you learn how to steer clear of such individuals, you are left to yourself, and can pretty much enjoy what Wordsworth described in his Ode to Daffodils as "the bliss of solitude."
The bliss of solitude !
I guess Wordsworth knew what he was talking about when he wrote those words. Poets, thinkers, philosophers have all extolled the virtues of solitude.There is something deeply compelling, maybe, even mystical and spiritual in enjoying solitude. I would best like to describe the experience as communing with oneself and celebrating and honouring the individual within you. As Thoreau wrote in Walden, "I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude." I am not saying one has to become an anchorite or turn into a prayer oriented ascetic, living a hermit's life. But in world that compels upon you 24/7 connectivity through email, mobile phone, Facebook, Instant Messaging and Twitter, don't you think it would be great to occasionally take a break from it all, away from the vacuous and empty chatter of modern life?
Modern day psychologists recognize the need for, and have a new name for solitude - a name that is shorn of its earlier pejorative association with the dreaded social ailment loneliness. They call it alonetime, and psychologist Ester Bucholz writes in her book The Call of Solitude that, " the stillness of alone experiences provide us with much needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore ,our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alonetime is fuel for life."
I am firmly convinced that just as the need to engage and interact with others is necessary for human happiness, so too is the need to be alone with oneself. Solitude has tremendous restorative powers and provides the opportunity for us to get in touch with our inner selves; it is a time for contemplation and introspection that is so necessary to achieve spiritual peace as we walk through the journey of life. Furthermore, it is in solitude, or alonetime that humans recharge their batteries and discover the wellsprings of passion and creativity. As Picasso remarked, "Without great solitude, no serious work is possible."
Today, when the whole focus of modern life is on this tremendous need to stay connected with the outside world and to brag about the number of friends you have on Facebook, solitude may seem to have gone out of fashion. At such times, it would be appropriate to recall these words from the Atharva Veda: "When are you to walk indoors into the warmth and quiet of your own interior? Retire into solitude now and then; experience the joy derivable only from them."