The Wisdom of Solitude
Kierkegaard and Whitehead
Kierkegaard on Solitude
BBC Documentary (Parts 1 and 2)
A Leap of Faith
In an age hungry for meaningful forms of community, it is hard to make a case for solitude and self-awareness. We seek the approval of others for our sense of well-being; we are perpetually distracted by possibilities for connection made possible through social media; we are inwardly driven by agendas for ‘getting things done’ in the world; we are so hurried that we really have little awareness of our own innermost feelings and desire.
Amid all this, it can seem strange for someone – Soren Kierkegaard, for example – to invite us to come to grips with our own solitude: that is, our innermost process of becoming a subjective self. The objective world seems so much more real and important.
It is also hard to make the case among process philosophers who often champion “meaningful community” or “a sense of belonging” as the heart of healthy human life, and who can be suspicious of ways of thinking that emphasize or at least overemphasize subjectivity and individuality. It can seem selfish and out of sync with the fact that, as process thinkers put it, we live in a relational universe, where everything is connected to everything else.
And yet, as Patricia Adams Farmer points out in her Fat Soul Philosophy, the very purpose of life may well be, not to succeed in the world in terms of appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement, but rather to become a Fat Soul. Here’s how she puts it in one of her recent essays called “The Meaning of Success Revisited.”
"The widening of the soul for the sake of Beauty is at the heart of what I have come to think of as “fat soul spirituality.” Big is beautiful in this inverted sort of world where it is never too late to be a success at what really counts. Of course this goes against the grain of everything we’ve been taught—like Jesus, who absolutely refused to turn stones into bread to impress the devil. He wasn’t interested in proving anything, but rather in expressing his own unique self. What if we gave up our need prove ourselves and gave ourselves over to expressing our true selves? What if we taught this to our children and grandchildren? What could be a better goal in life but to increase the size our soul? To add a measure of beauty to the world? To become fat souls? When it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters. Everything else is just dessert."
If she is right, then it is important for us to balance our desire for healthy community with a freedom to expressing our own unique self. And how can we do this unless we find that unique self in the first place?
As a process philosopher she tells us that the self we are finding is not an already-existing nugget of selfhood tucked within a lobe of our brain, but rather the subjective process of becoming a self, again and again, by responding to the world around and to our own innermost feelings. At our very best, she adds, we do this in ways that resonate with an Eros at the heart of the universe, whom so many address as God.
Patricia Adams Farmer sees the very essence of this Eros as Love. She thinks God loves us, sometimes much more than we love ourselves. This God of Love is the very God to whom Kierkegaard prayed, too.
It is easy enough to say all of this, but very hard to do it. Actually, we can’t exactly do it, but we can allow the healing spirit of God to work with us. It begins with a leap of faith that there is indeed a Love who seeks us as deeply as we seek the Love. The leap is not taken once in our lives but many times – often several times a day – and it often is accompanied with doubt and with fear and with trembling.
The leap also requires a willingness to take time away from others, in solitude, to listen to the whisperings of this Love that dwell within us and yet that are so much more than us. Kierkegaard believed that this Love was revealed in a strange event back in history, when the infinite broke into the finite in a young man who died on the cross for our sake. Maybe so. We need not say that this is the only place the Love was revealed, but we can consider the possibility that it is decisive place. A place worth leaping into, in fear and trembling, all the way from the top of mountain in a spirit of trust. Jesus discovered this place when he went up to the mountain, in solitude, to pray. In faith he gave himself into the arms of something wider and more loving than the world.
Each of us, in our own solitary way, can do the same. As we leap into infinite Love, allowing it to hold us when we cannot hold ourselves, we are better able to extend our own arms in a loving way, so as to embrace the tears and joys of the world and become, in our way, channels of grace and beauty. As this happens the infinite finds its way into the world through the interstices of our hearts, transformed into kindness. This is the good news.
-- Jay McDaniel