Authentic Inner Freedom

As the final embers of 2023 gently fade away, disappearing into the vast expanse of the new year’s dawn, and the icy grip of winter tightens its hold on the northern realms, a golden opportunity presents itself. It is a chance to step away from the chaotic extravagance that often accompanies the holiday season and instead embrace the serene tranquility that Winter Stillness bestows upon us. In this moment, solitude beckons, inviting us to explore its depths and discover its true essence.

Traditionally, solitude has been associated with secluded havens that shield us from the relentless assault of sensory stimuli. Places like monasteries, temples, and mountain retreats have long been regarded as the epitome of solitude, offering solace and respite from the clamor of the outside world. Having personally sought refuge in a Carmelite House of Prayer nestled amidst the majestic peaks of New Hampshire, I can attest to the profound nourishment and spiritual rejuvenation that such retreats provide. However, it begs the question: does solitude truly hinge upon a physical location?

While these idyllic retreats undeniably offer a sanctuary for the soul, it is essential to recognize that solitude transcends mere geography. Solitude is a state of mind, a profound connection with oneself that can be cultivated regardless of one’s surroundings. It is the ability to find solace within the bustling city streets, to discover inner peace amidst the cacophony of daily life. True solitude lies not in the absence of noise, but in the ability to find stillness within the chaos. It is a precious gift that can be unwrapped anywhere, at any time, for those who possess the wisdom to seek it.

It is all too effortless to succumb to the snare that proclaims “sacred spaces” as the sole arbiters of what is indispensable, even obligatory, for one to wholeheartedly embrace a contemplative and ethereal existence. Yet, upon profound contemplation, it becomes abundantly clear that this snare ensnares us, leading us into the abyss of materialism itself. Secluded havens may exude an air of enchantment, but they do not, in and of themselves, define the intrinsic essence of solitude. If solitude is contingent upon a physical location, then it becomes enslaved to materialistic constraints. Solitude is an affair of the soul, an ethereal realm that transcends the boundaries of objectivity. One can experience profound solitude while strolling down a dimly lit street alone at night, just as a reclusive Carthusian monk does within the confines of his isolated cell. A Soto-Zen monk, seated upon his zafu, gently twirling his mala, does not possess a superior spiritual standing compared to an individual preparing breakfast for their children on a cold January morning.. Solitude is not confined to a specific place; it is, in fact, placeless. It is a cultivation of that unwavering determination to remain centered in the Unborn, regardless of the external circumstances that surround us.

May the Unborn Spirit serenely calm your restless mind, allowing you to truly nurture your own sense of solitude in the year 2024—a year that exists solely within the realm of your imagination.

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