Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Aloneness / Solitude

Chögyam Trungpa used to describe how we create so much unnecessary trouble and suffering for ourselves because we don’t want what’s good for us and are so attracted by what’s bad for us. One of the best examples of this may be how much we’re afraid of being along and how much we will sacrifice on the alter of superficial entertainment, conversations, friends and empty goals. Instead, by leaning into solitude, we could discover what Rumi meant when he said, “To be alone with the truth for just a moment, is worth more than the world and life itself.”

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Quotes (82)

“Asked how he could endure such a solitary life, the philosopher answered, ‘I was in very good company until you came in.’”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE via Oliver Goldsmith, Shan Dao
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

“To fear a crowd, and yet to fear solitude, to fear to go unguarded, to fear the very guards themselves; to be unwilling to dispense with an armed escort, and yet to feel displeasure at the sight of one's attendants carrying arms: what a hateful predicament.”

Xenophon of Athens Ξενοφῶν 1 via Kathleen Freeman
General, Socratic biographer, philosopher
from Hiero

“The wise become their own best friend and appreciate privacy while the man of no virtue or ability—afraid of solitude—turns into his own worst enemy”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE via Shan Dao
from Nicomachean Ethics

“He does not struggle to make money and does not make a virtue of poverty. He goes his way without relying on others and does not pride himself on walking alone.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell
(Zhuangzi)

from The Man of Tao

“We are born alone and die alone; experience the good and bad consequences of our karma alone; and we go alone to hell or the supreme abode”

Chandragupta Maurya 340 – 297 BCE
Ashoka’s grandfather, founder of the Maurya Empire

“Alas! all joy has vanished from my life,
Alone beside the hill.
Never to follow fashion will I stoop,
Then must live lonely still.”

Qu Yuan 屈原 340 – 278 BCE via Arthur Waley
(Qū Yuán)
"King of the Water Immortals"
from Li Sao

“When you have shut your doors and darkened your room, remember, never to say that you are alone; for you are not alone; your genius is within.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Higginson
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

“The thoughtful soul to solitude retires”

Omar Khayyám 1048 – 1131 CE via Edward Fitzgerald
Persian Astronomer-Poet, prophet of the here and now

from Rubaiyat

“Only in silent serenity is the self known, full spirited in its own glory, no stranger to sages and not diminished with worldly people.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Dan Leighton
(Shōgaku)
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

“The Great Way has no gate; there are 1000 paths to it. If you pass through the barrier, you walk the universe alone.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE via Stephen Mitchell
(Wumen Huikai)
Pioneering pathfinder to the Gateless Gate

from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

“This aloneness is worth more than a thousand lives.
This freedom is worth more than all the lands on earth.
To be alone with the truth for just a moment,
Is worth more than the world and life itself.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)

“If you are alone, you are all your own; with a companion you are half yourself.”

Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 CE

42. Children of the Way

“I am always alone and speak to no one... I have no friend of any kind and I do not want any.”

Michelangelo 1475 – 1564 CE via Romain Rolland

“From his youth, Michelangelo had consecrated himself not only to sculpture and painting, but to all the other arts with such devouring energy that he had to separate himself almost entirely from the society of men… it was his love of work alone which made him solitary for he was filled with the joy and rapture which hiss work gave him and the society of men only bored him… he was never less lonely than when he was alone.”

Condivi 1525 – 1574 CE
“Official” Michelangelo Biographer
from Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti, 1553

“From his youth, Michelangelo had consecrated himself not only to sculpture and painting, but to all the other arts with such devouring energy that he had to separate himself almost entirely from the society of men… it was his love of work alone which made him solitary for he was filled with the joy and rapture which hiss work gave him and the society of men only bored him… he was never less lonely than when he was alone.”

Condivi 1525 – 1574 CE
“Official” Michelangelo Biographer
from Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti, 1553

“Nature has presented us with a large faculty of entertaining ourselves alone: and often calls us to it, to teach us that we owe ourselves in part to society, but chiefly and mostly to ourselves.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE via On giving the lie (tr: Colton and Hazlitt)
Grandfather of the Enlightenment
from Essays, French Essais

“Now I see the mystery of your loneliness.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from All's Well That Ends Well

“He than can live alone resembles the brute beast in nothing, the sage in much, and like a god in everything.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #137

“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

“Superior and alone, Confucius stood
Who taught that useful science,—to be good.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from Temple of Fame

“Talents are best nurtured in solitude; character best formed in the stormy billows of the world.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Torquato Tasso (1790)

“'Tis solitude should teach us how to die; it hat no flatters; vanity can give no hollow aid; alone—man with his God must strive.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity
from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1808-1817)

“The more active the imagination, the fewer perceptions from outside transmitted to us by the senses. Long periods of silence and solitude nurture it, journeys, the bustle of life, and high noons of stimulation chase it far away.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via R.J. Hollingdale, Shan Dao
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

“To fly from need not be to hate mankind. All are not fit with them to stir and toil. Nor is it discontent to keep the mind deep in its fountain.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity
from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1808-1817)

“in solitude, where every one is thrown upon his own resources, what a man has in himself comes to light... a man is sociable just in the degree in which he is intellectually poor and generally vulgar.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Wisdom of Life

“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

42. Children of the Way

“The human need for socialization drives human porcupines together [‘Schopenhauer’s or The Porcupine’s dilemma’] only to be mutually repelled by the many irritating qualities of the others (‘familiarity breeds contempt’). Codes of politeness and manners create a tolerable but unsatisfying balance between social warmth and irritation so the more independent and self-sufficient prefer more solitude.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via Shan Dao
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

76. The Soft and Flexible

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

42. Children of the Way

“if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams… In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

47. Effortless Success

“What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?”

George Eliot 1819 – 1880 CE
(Mary Anne Evans)
Pioneering literary outsider

“When he realizes that he is responsible to all men for all and for everything, for all human sins, communal and individual, only then will the purpose of a monk’s solitude be realized”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett, Shan Dao
from Brothers Karamatzov

“Everywhere these days, we have ceased to understand that we only find true security in social solidarity, not in isolated individual effort.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett
from Brothers Karamatzov

“The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”

Henrik Ibsen 1828 – 1906 CE
"The world's 2nd most-performed playwright"
from An Enemy of the People (1882)

“How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn't care about careers,
And exigencies never fears.”

Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886 CE

72. Helpful Fear

“I have always worked better alone and from my own impressions... If he Renoir knew I was about to go, Renoir would doubtless want to join me and that would be equally disastrous for both of us.”

Claude Monet 1840 – 1926 CE
"the driving force behind Impressionism"

“A man alone is only half a man—it takes both a man and a woman to complete the circuit... sublime thoughts and great deeds are the children of married minds.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from A Thosand and One Epigrams, 1911

“Voluntary loneliness—isolation from others—is the readiest safeguard against the unhappiness that may arise out of human relations.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE
from Civilization and It's Discontents (1930)

“You and I possess manifold ideal bonds in the interests we share; but each of us has his poor body and his irremediable, incommunicable dreams.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet
from Life of Reason: Reason in Science (1905-6)

“Demosthenes, a leader such as Greece had never known before and was never to know again. History, indeed, has known few of them... What he did all alone was almost miraculous... he lifted the whole political mess which Plato had turned from as hopeless, out of the corruption in which it was sunk up to a lofty level of patriotism.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Echo of Greece, 1957

“Nature has a language of its own read by those who have lived long in solitude as their own unconscious inner feelings and mysterious foreknowledge.”

Alexandra David-Néel 1868 – 1969 CE

“The practice of solitude engenders the love of solitude. Like anything important that we at first fear because we know it to be incompatible with lesser things we're attached to—pleasures which cease to please as soon as we have known solitude.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien, Shan Dao
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from The Maxims of Marcel Proust

“By self-interest, Man has become gregarious, but in instinct he has remained to a great extent solitary; hence the need of religion and morality to reinforce self-interest... The mystic becomes one with God, and feels himself absolved from duty to his neighbor.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from History of Western Philosophy

“We are solitary. We many delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. that is all.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE via Norton
Profound singer of universal music
from Letters to a Young Poet (1904)

“today as then—because I know things and must hint at things which other people do not know, and usually do not want to know—I am a solitary”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE
Profound singer of universal music
from Duino Elegies

44. Fame and Fortune

“Like plants, so men also grow, some in the light, others in the shadows. There are many who need the shadows and not the light.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Red Book, Liber Novus

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous—to poetry.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from Death in Venice (1924)

“The solitary traveler is soon beyond the wood.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

“I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

70. Inscrutable

“When shall I at last retire into solitude alone, without companions, without joy and without sorrow, with only the sacred certainty that all is a dream?”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

13. Honor and Disgrace

“The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and it can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone can open the mind of man to all that is hidden to others.”

Igjugarjuk 1 via Knud Rasmussen
Eskimo healer, Caribou teacher, great Inuit shaman
from The Fifth Thule Expedition

“Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors.”

Eugene O'Neill 1888 – 1953 CE
from Lazarus Laughed (1927)

“Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities, whether they swear by Solovyov or Kant or Marx. Only individuals seek the truth.”

Boris Pasternak Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к 1890 – 1960 CE
Russia's greatest poet
from Doctor Zhivago (1957)

“I belonged to no party, no organization, no group, society, or faction.”

George Seldes 1890 – 1995 CE
Pioneering investigative journalist and champion of the exposé

“I love people. I love my family, my children … but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE via New York Post (1959)

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE
from To My Daughters With Love (1967)

“If one's different, one's bound to be lonely.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

“The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

42. Children of the Way

“I have always hated crowds. I like deserts, prisons, and monasteries.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE

“I have always hated crowds. I like deserts, prisons, and monasteries.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE

“As soon as you're alone, things lay hold of you by themselves and always force you to take the roads that are hardest to climb. And even if you don't get there, what fine views you have, and how reassuring everything is.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE

4. The Father of All Things

“Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.”

Thomas Wolfe 1900 – 1938 CE
(Thomas Clayton Wolfe)
Father of autobiographical fiction

“Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?”

Thomas Wolfe 1900 – 1938 CE
(Thomas Clayton Wolfe)
Father of autobiographical fiction
from Look Homeward, Angel, 1929

“You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from 1984

“Solitude is the human condition in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about when I am alone without being able to split up into the two-in-one, without being able to keep myself company.”

Hannah Arendt 1906 – 1975 CE
Fearless researcher into the darker reaches of the human psyche

“Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.”

Octavio Paz 1914 – 1998 CE
Persuasive poet and convincing social commentator

“People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”

Charles Bukowski 1920 – 1994 CE
"Laureate of American lowlife”

“The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.”

Gabriel García Márquez 1927 – 2014 CE
(Gabo, Gabito)
The greatest Colombian
from One Hundred Years of Solitude

“I don't want to be alone, I want to be left alone.”

Audrey Hepburn 1929 – 1993 CE

63. Easy as Hard

“Self-expression is impossible in relation with other men; their self-expression interferes with it. The greatest heights of self-expression in poetry, music, painting—are achieved by men who are supremely alone.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子 1933 CE –
(“Ocean Child”)

49. No Set Mind

“Losing consciousness in digital dreams
Ignoring life caught up in schemes
Time to come on back home
And start being alone.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“A cell phone isn't a toy. It's a very lucky technical miracle for all of us. It's a prime weapon against our essential loneliness but I can't say I've ever felt that lonely.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”

“You don't have to know how to do it... There is no help coming from anywhere at all. You have to make your own individual journey that is purely based on you.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Orderly Chaos — The Mandala Principle

“If we stop making ingratiating gestures to please the world and just centralize in what is, we begin to see that being alone is a very beautiful thing.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via The Six Chakras and the Four Karmas
from Secret Beyond Thought, Boston, 1971

“I felt as if I'd swallowed an overcast sky whole.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel
from Sputnik Sweetheart

“When trying to accomplish something serious, I liked to do it myself. Having to check things out with other people and get them to understand seemed to me a great waste of time and energy when it was a lot easier to work along in silence.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Jay Rubin
from Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

“loneliness is the default state of the world. Friends, family, love or a band are the rare anomalies... You're born alone, you die alone, and for most of what lies between, you are alone.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Utopia Avenue

“the so-called normalcy of hamster-wheel activity keeps people running away from themselves. Isolated, but too scared to be alone.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

“Waging war takes guts, but you have the comfort of knowing that your friends stand beside you. Fighting for peace takes even greater courage, because all too often, you stand alone.”

Deepak Malhotra 1
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

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