Monday, January 3, 2011

Reflections: Solitude and Wisdom


As I sit poised to launch into the first work-week of the new year, I am thankful for the acquisition, at the tag end of 2010, of a new literary / spiritual / philosophical mentor – Robert Lax.

I admire Søren Kierkegaard. I am fascinated and at least partially convinced by Carl Jung and some of his disciples (e.g. Hermann Hesse). I enjoy reading the critical theory of Harold Bloom and share some of his interests (e.g. Gnosticism). And there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other creative writers and thinkers whose oeuvres I admire and have studied in their entirety. But, until my recent discovery of Robert Lax, Simone Weil inhabited a category in my regard of which she was the sole member.

Weil and Lax were very different. One was male; one female. One was primarily a poet; the other primarily a philosopher. They were alike in each having been a solitary. But very different types of solitary they were. Lax was gregarious in his solitude – living alone, but enjoying the company of friends and strangers alike. Weil was largely a true loner. Her primary association with other people was in the role of teacher.

So much do I admire each of these human paragons, that I most value in myself those things in which I detect their faint echoes. So much do I learn from studying their very different lives and modes of solitude, that I’ve come to an understanding that I probably went wrong in my life by not seeking solitude for myself.

Here, from a work of Lax’s entitled A Greek Journal, are two entries with which I strongly identify and which I admired greatly when I read them yesterday morning:

sometimes, i have conversations with an imaginary guru, naturally one who lives inside me. he used to be a psychiatrist: at least in the old days a lot of my conversations were started with, & a lot of my problems heard out or resolved by, an imaginary Viennese who listened carefully, often accusingly, & showed me with a few apt technical phrases how far i had erred in my thinking, or behavior. the Viennese fellow has disappeared; comes back if ever for very short visits; but has been replaced by chuang tzu (sometimes merton, or sometimes chuang tzu in merton translation) who tells me other wisdoms: usually the wisdoms of abstinence & avoidance; of retreat, prayer & preparation, of non-attachment, of “sitting quietly doing nothing,” of seeking smallness, not greatness, or of seeking nothing at all.
what he promotes is wisdom, what he promises is grace. zen wisdom, perhaps; zen grace, but certainly wisdom & grace.