"... but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Self-Reliance'
This one had a particular resonance with me over the summer, secluded as I was up in the mountains. That kind of isolation was exactly what I was looking for as I set about analyzing and assessing the lifestyle I was leaving and re-evaluating many of my priorities.
Emerson is making the assumption that we are at our best when no one is watching, that we can be or seek the best version of ourselves when we are alone, but that it’s hard to maintain that independence of thought when we are in the midst of the herd influence of society. At the end of my time on the mountain for this season, I do feel like a version of me that I am pretty comfortable with at this point along the path.
The challenge now is to preserve that sense of me back amidst the hustle and bustle of civilization, a task that can be hard. It’s natural to conform to one degree or another when we’re in the midst of society, to abandon the independence of perception that is so much easier without distraction or the comforts of conformity. There’s a lot of cultural pressure to do so too, in any culture, but perhaps especially in one that bombards us with images of happiness, beauty and success that are so closely linked to what we can buy and based on imitating lifestyles, vagaries of fashion and physical ideals as they are represented in the media we watch and read.
But that’s the trick of it, isn’t it? The challenge is to figure out who we are at our best, and then chase after and hold onto that person in spite of the pressure and temptation to be someone, to one degree or another, that we’re not - to find every day, regardless of circumstance, the sweetness of that ‘independence of solitude’.