Four weeks of solitude

When I’m alone, my mind becomes restless. It wants to be fed with news. To abet this urge, in the civilised world, we converse with friends and draw on such inventions as newspapers, radio, television, and, of course, the internet. Once you cut yourself off from media and start living as a recluse, however, interesting things happen.

During the first week, the mind seems to latch onto any available information. This could be a cutting that you encounter from an old paper, a snippet of noise from someone’s radio, or a fragment of overheard conversation. But such information turns out to be insufficient. In order to compensate for this, the mind begins to delve into memories, or even to fantasise.

The mind’s interest in memories fades over the second week. It is getting tired from milling the same information over and over.

During the third and fourth weeks, the mind calms down and enters into a steadier state. One’s attention becomes more acute. Details that were previously ignored are now noticed. And these can be a source of considerable pleasure.

I will give a personal example. After a month of living as a recluse in Crimea, I became more attentive to the lives of other beings. These included invertebrates such as spiders, whom I met in various places. Certain individuals reached 10 сentimetres in diameter. Gradually, I learned how to recognise the different kinds of creatures, and I sought to enter into a dialogue with them.

There was particular excitement for me in the case of a centipede from the genus Scolopendra. Right before falling asleep one night, I sensed a strange rustling near my ear. Thinking that it might be the sound of a grasshopper who had strayed inside, I investigated the bedclothes. What I saw left me stunned. Inside the pillowcase, there was an orange-and-black Scolopendra cingulata, of incredible beauty and size – a queen of centipedes. Her length must have been close to 20 сentimetres if not more, and her girth that of a large human thumb. I carefully removed her back to the outside world.

How she got inside the pillowcase remains a mystery. Perhaps, it was her desire to enter into a dialogue. Why, I wondered, had I been so stunned that I did not sense this at the time?

At night, I listened to all the rustles, accustoming my ear to the sounds of grasshoppers, bugs, hedgehogs, cats, and the wind. It turned out that the wind could talk.

Smells became more significant and more pronounced; I entered a realm of odours.

The mind and my feelings had gradually become harmonious with nature’s rhythms. Now, accidently overheard information was nothing but an irritant.

Later, I found this passage in Wendell Berry’s What Are People For:

And by it we enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness.

Only discord can come of the attempt to share solitude.

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.

Note: This is a brief account of a stay in Crimea in 2013. I didn’t know then that it would be my last summer there.

Read ‘Four weeks of solitude’, by Victor Postnikov, on the #EarthTongues blog

[Photo by Eran Finkle: CC BY-SA 3.0.]