Today was a quiet Sunday morning, I sat by the window sipping masala chai looking at the dew on the jasmine leaves spread across the backyard window, I noticed an usual pile of yellow trumpet flowers on the side of the trumpet vine. As I began to look closely at the yellow heap, I noticed a synchronous twirling of the vines and saw a hummingbird sucking the pollen from the yellow flowers. Awestruck, I noticed the precision of the hummingbird as it sucked the pollen out of the yellow trumpet flowers. I reached out for my phone to capture this beautiful marvel of nature but then decided to save the moment in my memory instead. I found myself in a meditative state as I watched the choreographic movements of this beautiful bird. The twirling of the vine, the golden glow of the yellow flowers, the graceful movements of the bird and the slow brush of the breeze, seemed like a peaceful offering for my restless soul, almost therapeutic.
I then began to wonder at the things we miss observing by living in a state of daily chaos. I wondered how my friends would react if I told them how moved I was by this hummingbird encounter. Some of them would say “Good for you, that you watched it, watch more”, or “I got no time for this” or “I got better things to do” etc. They are all well-meaning people and I love them dearly, but most lack the appreciation for pauses.
In our pursuit of happiness and our quest for this imaginary state of mind, we lose our peace. We assume that access to happiness lies someplace far away from us. We take trips to find joy, vacations to seek contentment. While I fully understand the desire to explore and the need to plunge in the discovery of the unknown, and nothing against vacations or trips either, but the craziness around this puzzles me greatly. Finding happiness or peace in our imperfect lives is a challenge but the truth is we all are imperfect so chasing perfection is futile but finding peace within chaos should be our goal.
The times in my life when I was most restless were the most troubled times, and that is when I avoided solitude. Being alone with myself meant I would have to come to terms with myself. I did not want to face the chaos I was in; grief, trauma, loss, guilt, stress, anxiety-life in its full form. Look away, and cover up, was my defense mechanism and survival instinct. I just wished we practiced more of the daily pauses and were more alone with ourselves and nature. There is so much emphasis on mindfulness and meditation, and a great focus is on achieving high level objectives, yet the daily inspiring moments are missed in the confusion as we seldom are alone with ourselves.
Perhaps, we all are fearful of being alone and equate it with loneliness, not realizing that the two are different. One can be lonely in a crowd and can be alone yet not lonely. The society has taught us that solitary is bad and miserable. Being alone is considered as painful and boring. However, solitude can be empowering if we allow ourselves to connect with our inner core, examine the content of our mind, heart and our overall being.
It is not surprising that solitude is the core of meditation practices as solitude offers adequate distance and clarity to see the truth of our lives and the world that we live in. According to Albert Camus “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” There is freedom in solitude that is impossible to experience when surrounded by people. In solitude one may discover self-compassion, achieve self-connectedness, develop gratitude and find joy.
Samina Salim is Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacological & Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Houston