Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 3: Relax and Retreat > Chapter 1: Take Intermittent Pauses
Take Intermittent Pauses
Perhaps these pages may impart a flavour of that unforgettable quiet which counters the tumult of today's existence.
He must make two demands on society if he is to accomplish his purpose--solitude and time. And if society is unprepared and therefore unwilling to grant them, he must take them by force. If this leads, as it may, to the false criticism that he is self-centered and proud, he must accept this as part of the cost of growth.
A modern way of spiritual living for busy city-dwellers would be to carry out all normal duties but to retreat from them from time to time into rural solitude for special meditation and study. In the town itself, they should manage to find a half to one hour every day for prayer and mental quiet.
If you begin the day with love in your heart, peace in your nerves, and truth in your mind, you not only benefit by their presence but also bring them to others--to your family or friends, and to all those whom destiny draws across your path that day.
This withdrawal from the day's turmoil into creative silence is not a luxury, a fad, or a futility. It is a necessity, because it tries to provide the conditions wherein we are able to yield ourselves to intuitive leadings, promptings, warnings, teachings, and counsels and also to the inspiring peace of the soul. It dissolves mental tensions and heals negative emotions.
We need these interludes of mental quiet.
Lucky is the man who, in these days, can extricate himself from society without passing permanently into the cloister. Yet luck is only apparent, for no one can do it without firm determination and stubborn persistence.
The aggressive world of our time needs to learn how to get out of time. The active world needs to learn to sit still, mentally and physically, without becoming bored.
If we give a part of the day to the purposes of study, prayer, meditation, and physical care, it may begin as a duty but it may end as a joy.
To begin the day with such high thoughts, such metaphysical reading, such meditative calm, is to begin the day well. All his reaction to its coming events will be influenced by this wise procedure. He is a far-sighted man who refuses to be carried away by the speed and greed of our times but insists on making a period for elated feeling and exalted mind.
He can do nothing better for himself and, in the end, for the world than to step out of its current from time to time. If he uses the occasion well, he will bring back something worth having.
In these periodical retreats from society he finds the best part of himself. In society, he finds the other part.
The earth will continue to turn on its axis, with or without him. He is not so important as he thinks.
If human life is to achieve intelligent awareness, it must find time, privacy, and quiet.
He must do whatever is possible within his karmic limits to arrange times for such retreats. Otherwise the pressure of habit and routine, of other persons and social, family, or professional demands, will provide excuses for their neglect.
In these periods he retreats for a while from the outer role he is playing on the world-stage. He is letting it go, no longer to play the "personal self" role but to rest from it and simply "be."
At certain periods they feel a need to get away from each other. There can be merely physical, nervous, emotional, or mental reasons for it, but on the highest plane it is the need of that undistracted aloneness in which God can be found.
Before the day's business starts, attend to your business with the Overself.
The man who makes no time for thought about God or contemplation on God is to be pitied. For on the scale of real values his actual business is mere idleness if it remains unguided, unprotected, and uninspired by the truths, laws, or intuitions drawn from such retreats.
When he can retreat within his own mind and enjoy the peace he finds there, how little can the busy thrusting beckoning world attract him?
If, to find this leisure, he has to shorten working or sleeping hours, it is still well worth the price.
The principle of temporary withdrawals and occasional retreats from the world is a valuable one. It clears the mind which has become too fogged with its own desires. It calms the heart which has become too agitated by disturbing events.
These intervals of retreat give us the chance to lift the mind above all the hates, fears, and greeds of negative suggestions from our surroundings.
It is good to forget for twenty or thirty minutes each day the world and its affairs in order to remember the Overself and its serenity. This forgetfulness is exalting and uplifting in proportion to the distance it carries us from the ego.
A day begun with mental quiet and inner receptivity is a day whose work is well begun. Every idea, decision, move, or action which flows out from it later will be wiser better and nobler than it otherwise would have been.
Those who keep their leisure too busily occupied with too many unessential activities, useless gossip, or excessive entertainment to have any time left to spare for the higher purposes of life, will have only themselves to blame if, later, the outer crises of life find them without the inner resources to meet them.
To sit down and literally do nothing except to abstain from mental and physical movement would seem to an unknowing onlooker to be another way of being idle. Perhaps. But there is paradox here, for it is also the best way of being busy!
Nature's rhythm of energetic activity and recuperative stillness offers us an ancient lesson, but too many are either too slow to learn it or too impatient willingly to reduce the speedy tempo and busy thought of the modern mind. So they fail to return to their centre, fail to profit by the great ever-present Grace.
The failure on the part of most people in the West to give a little of their time to personal and private holy communion--bringing no priest or clergyman into the period but seeking in their own solitude to take advantage of the usually well-camouflaged fact that man is essentially alone--brings its inevitable consequences. Their lives may be good or bad, their careers may be successful or failing, but with no consciousness of Consciousness, they remain only half-men. They have so little competent guidance from those who are professional spiritual guides that most do not even know the sin through omission they are committing, do not recognize the failure in duty, and are not troubled by the incompleteness of their knowledge.
A life which contains no interludes of stillness can possess no real strength.
The notion that we must keep everlastingly active to justify our existence is not a deep one. Much of what we do has no real value.
To this extent, that he provides the requisite time and solitude every day for meditation and study, it may be said that he withdraws himself into a life apart.
Withdrawal from the familiar environments, for brief intervals, is good if properly used, that is, if one moves over to the attitude of being a detached observer of that environment and of what has already happened within it.
Each aspirant must solve for himself this problem of gaining time and solitude for the mystical phase of the quest. First, he has to gain twenty to thirty minutes every day for a period of meditation. Next, he has to gain a few entire days or weeks every year of retreat from social distractions, business preoccupations, and family gregariousness for study of the wisdom teaching, more frequent efforts after meditation, and surrender to the inspiration of Nature. A small secluded cottage is excellent for this purpose.
It is an attempt to unshackle consciousness from the tensions generated by outward activity, a respite from the attachments formed by living incessantly in the personal ego.
A man must empty himself in these allotted periods of withdrawal, must then let go of memories of his past and anticipations of his future, of passions and desires in his present.
We not only need a bodily bath after we have been too much in the world but also an inner bath, to wash off the negative, mean, and irritable feelings of the day.
This dipping into itself on the mind's part is a rare movement. Ordinarily it happens only in sleep.
If he is to come to terms with the world and live in it, he must begin to learn the art of doing so out of the world. In times of private retreat, of personal isolation, he must seek intellectual quiet, mental passivity, and emotional impassivity.
If he is led by the guidance of intuition or by the prescription of a spiritual director to seek solitude and shun society for a period of time every day, or even for a period of weeks every year, let him do so literally and not submit to the enforced intimacy of a monastery or ashram.
The need to withdraw is the need to accumulate reserves of inner life, light, and power.
It is true that, since we carry the ego with us wherever we go, the notion that in some other place, the more remote the better, we might find tranquillity is an illusory one. Yet it is not always a foolish one. A mere change of scene has not only helped physical invalids but also mentally agitated persons.
There is a mysterious moment or moments on the frontier between sleeping and waking which offers opportunity better than at other times for awareness of the higher consciousness.
These who are so over-active and under-meditative may be incredulous of the suggestion that they might go farther by going slower. But it is a fact.
It is good to withdraw for a while to bathe in the pool of profounder thought--not to escape life but to gain stronger faith for living, clearer vision for action, and a true impetus in all things.
Withdraw for a while, not necessarily for moral inventory and personal stock-taking, although it could well include them, but essentially for deep realization.
The critics of those who practise withdrawal talk of "escape" in derogatory tones, as of some cowardly and shameful act. But why is it so meritorious to stay chained forever to burdens, problems, anxieties, and crosses? Why may a sufferer not take refuge from their weight and pressure, seek relief from their tension, forget and let them fade into abeyance for an hour? This too is worthwhile even if, unlike the monk proficient in meditation exercise, he feels no positive peace. For the instinct which leads him into it is a sure one, however dim and unformulated it be. It is a far-off recognition of a profoundest fact--the connection with a Higher Power.
If he seeks to avoid the cares of life and the burdens of reponsibility by retreating into rural solitude, cutting ties and curbing ambition, he is entitled to do so. But he will be much better entitled if his desertion of the business and tumult of the city is only for a time, and only to learn what the Overself alone can teach.
The return to ordinary conditions from these withdrawals may find him somewhat relaxed, perhaps with some feeling of well-being, even if he did not succeed in touching any higher state.
Prepare for the day's life by a period of complete stillness.
Open yourself in these silent periods to new intuitive feeling, and if it directs you to any new course of action, it will give you the power needed for that course.
He is entitled to turn away from social existence from time to time if that existence stands in the way of his aspiration and growth, if it obstructs the light producing his vision of life's infinite greatness.
Each person has the right to a certain privacy for these few minutes of meditation, or half hour, or even longer. He has the right to secure solitude for this purpose, to withdraw from those who claim him and from duties which never end. On this matter he may meet with opposition or derision from other members of his household, but by careful, patient, tactful, yet unyielding handling, he must try to live it down.
Those who give too few minutes during the day to thought about, remembrance of, or meditation on the higher self cannot justly demand a spiritual return out of all proportion to what they have given.
Retreat from the world is as necessary for a healthy inner life as return to it.
From these contemplative ponderings he may take back truth and strength for his day-to-day living, solutions for his personal problems.
A man who does not give himself the leisure for study, reflection, and meditation does not give himself enough chance to grow mentally and develop spiritually. Such a man will not be able to bring to his life the best preparation and must not expect the best results.
The worst troubles fall into better perspective when we enter into these withdrawn periods, when we look at them from the deeper self's poise.
Stop doing what you usually do, cease your daily toil for a while, and be still! Thus you die daily to self.
By inserting these periods of withdrawal into the business of everyday living, that very business will itself take on clearer meaning.
It is essential to set aside a part of his morning for this important purpose. It need only be a tiny part, if he feels that is all he can spare.
Japanese proverb: In the buzz of the marketplace there is money, but under the cherry tree there is content.
"Be still and know that I am God." Here is a direct command, a counsel, even a revelation which can be carried out only by deserting the everyday activities and bringing both body and mind into stillness.
Pushing oneself to the limit may help a man at a certain time, but there is also a different time when letting go may help him more.
There are times when the heart's need to feel peace becomes imperative and when the mind's need of long-range perspectives becomes overwhelming. To yield to these needs is not a cowardly escapism but a sensible re-adjustment.
Surrounded by the distractions of society though it may be, the mind must retire and concentrate in itself. Seated in the midst of a numerous assembly as he may be, a man can yet dwell in mental solitude, as abstracted as a lonely hermit.
Escape from worldly life and big cities for suitable periods and on the proper occasions can be used to promote spiritual advancement and to perfect spiritual capacity.
It is paradoxical that a man's quietest moments reveal the most to him, and bestow the best upon him.
Let him escape from these busy routines for a few hours or days, perhaps even a few fortunate weeks, not to seek new activity in entertainment and sport but to seek solitude in meditation and study, reflection and prayer.
The amusements and entertainments which modern civilization has provided for itself are many and fascinating. But we have only twenty-four hours in a day, and if we give a disproportionate amount of our available time to them we rob ourselves and waste life.
If he remains too engrossed in work or pleasure to remember, or to be willing, to fulfil this duty, he remains on the banal level where most others are content to remain.
Take these beautiful moments, which Nature's rhythm has provided or man's art has fabricated, as a grace and benefit by them on a deeper level. But to do this there must be a pause in the oscillations of active life, a deliberate stilling of the self, be it short or long.
Those are the moments when one returns from such absences with a mind become quite lucid, evocative of many ideas stumbling over each other.
If you can achieve enough freedom from the disturbances, the noise, and the bustle of city life, you can use your room, your house, or your garden for the purpose. There will be no need to take flight to a hill, cave, monastery, or forest.
Those who are too busy to go into the silence and who have no time for its daily practice, usually have plenty of time to hold negative thoughts and undesirable moods.
If men live in the flesh alone, if they have no spiritual core within which to retreat from time to time, they must endure, unsustained by anything from within, the sufferings and infirmities of the flesh.
If he finds it necessary to isolate and segregate himself from the rest of society for certain periods--whether short or long--its justification must lie in the loftiness of his purpose.
There is much in the outer world to abrase feeling, inflame passion, or weigh down mind. It is then that retreat into the inner world can be made into a healing, helping, or calming one.
Balance inner and outer
This antagonism between the meditative life and the practical life is only a supposed one, not a real one. If it exists at all it exists only between their extreme and therefore abnormal forms, between the wholly inactive trance state--which is temporary--and the wholly active extrovert state--which is diseased. The proper human life is not only practical but also meditative. There is necessarily a contrast between the two qualities but there need not be an antagonism.
Man's trail leads all the way from the primitive who dwelt in a cave because he never saw a city to the yogi who dwells in a lonely cave because he has seen too much of crowded cities! But it will not stop there. The philosopher will seek an environment where he can unite the quietude and solitude and beauty of Nature with the comfort and stimulation and appeal of the town. He will be partly in the world yet partly out of it. He will commune with his divine spirit yet also with his better neighbour.
Philosophy advocates neither the permanent association with society nor the permanent retirement into solitude. It does not vaunt the home at the expense of the monastery or the monastery at the expense of the home. It takes no side in any absolute manner, but it makes use of both in the fullness of its own discretion. It says that at one time or at a certain stage, society will be helpful or even necessary to a man, whereas at another stage or at another time, solitude will be not less necessary and not less helpful. It says that to remain in society when the inner prompting is to go into solitude is to turn society into an evil thing; but on the other hand, to remain in solitude when the inner bidding is to go forth among one's fellows again is equally wrong. A man's need in these matters must be dictated by his personal circumstances on the outside, and by his intuitive feeling on the inside; and if he is in any doubt as to where his duty lies he has to find and consult a competent spiritual director, who will quickly put him on the right track. But, we repeat, philosophy cannot be tied down to any disciplinary formula which is to be prescribed freely to all men and at all times. It is hostile neither to retirement from the world nor to activity in the world, but includes both as being, at different times, part of the philosophic life and needful to a well-balanced temperament.
The secret of achieving successful balance between the contemplative life and the active life is to go slowly, inch by inch, and not to jump.
What is needed is a daily alternation of meditational retreat and practical action, a swinging to and fro between these two necessities of a balanced life.
We must act in society the thoughts and dreams of our solitude. It is difficult to adjust the life of the Soul to the life of the world today and keep a fine balance--but we must try.
Ought we to flee the world and live in ascetic disdain of its attractions? Or ought we to inlay a mystic-philosophic pattern into the picture of everyday duty? The answer is that both courses are correct. We must build sufficient strength to detach our hearts from enslavement to desire, and we must make practical the insights conferred by this quest of the Overself. We must learn how to do the first without shutting ourselves in monastic seclusion, and how to do the second without losing the proper balance between the universal and personal outlook, a balance which marks the sage. We must mingle with mankind to show them that a nobler existence is possible and to share with them whatever they can absorb of insights and experiences which only the elect usually have.
It is needful to achieve a kind of rhythm in the day`s living, a withdrawnness now and then punctuating the outwardness of the active hours. This is needed whether the activity be mental or physical.
The message of Krishna in the Gita may be summarized as: "This calm evenness of mind is known as Yoga. He who wins it by solitary meditation in the cave gains nothing higher than he who wins it by ego-detached work in the marketplace."
The longing to remove himself from the worldly society around and find some retreat may come upon him from time to time. He should neither resist nor yield to it but try to understand why it arises, what it involves, and strike a debit balance about it. Then only can he see more clearly how best to deal with it.
The need of rest periods is not limited only to times after work or any other activity--it is also needed after a number of meetings with other persons. Isolation is needed to balance society. The divine presence is company enough.
A life starved of periods of being, that is, a life extroverted into thoughts and actions, is unbalanced.
To live in the equilibrium of the spirit while living at the same time in the turmoil of the world--this is the philosopher's practical but glorious task. The monk whose inner voice directs him to seek the cloistered life of a monastic institution must be honoured for obeying it. That is his special way. Some may even envy his sheltered peace while others may shudder at his somber asceticism. But the philosopher, who seeks the One in the Many and finds the Many in the One, sees no undue superiority either in the girdled robe or the trousered suit. He is ready and willing to be a monk or to be a worldling, whichever way the wisdom of destiny, the pressure of circumstances, the guidance of conscience, and the inclination of temperament indicate. However, he will generally prefer to keep his independence by keeping to himself, rather than become prisoner to other people's fanaticism. Nor does his view of life separate the universe from God, activity in it from a godly life.
It will be wise to restrict social contacts and activities but not carry the restrictions to extremes. He must use his common sense to judge how far to engage in these activities to keep a proper degree of balance.
It is not that he is coldly insensitive to the world tragedy around him but that he needs time to equilibrize himself to deal with it.
If he is worried about the lack of money to the extent that he cannot keep the inner peace gained during the periods of such relaxation, that is to compel him to become better balanced, more practical, and rightly adjusted to the physical world. He should treat it not as something to worry about, but as a problem to be quietly faced and sensibly mastered.
Philosophy does not advocate outward separation from the life of the world although it encourages occasional and temporary retreats. A total separation is not justifiable and, what is more, not necessary.
If he retires to enjoy the tranquillity of rural retreats, he does so only to emerge later for the activity of city ways. He does so only to bring more wisdom and more strength, more nobility and more spirituality into his external life.
Although it is extremely helpful for most beginners to cultivate a quieter life, meeting fewer people and keeping less busy, retiring into the temporary solitude each day of a study-meditation period, the aspirant need not reject society altogether or totally retire from everything worldly. Some do, of course, and join ashrams or monasteries. But such a drastic move is difficult for most persons in modern life. Nor is it recommended by philosophy. The opposition encountered in that life, its materialistic unpleasantness, may be treated as a challenge. The exercise of keeping the emotional self peaceful, or making the mind calm, despite provocation, is of the utmost value in such circumstances.
The difficulty of carrying on with the mystical Quest in the midst of domestic cares and the duties of a household is admittedly great. Nevertheless, karma has put us where we are in order for us to learn certain lessons. These lessons can only be learned there, amongst children, husbands and wives, and relatives. The need of solitude and of retreat to Nature is genuine, but this can be satisfied by taking occasional vacation trips.
To believe that one must live in a monastic ashram if progress is to be made and to despise the world outside as being spiritually unprofitable, is a mistake. This has been amply verified by experience, observation, and reflection. A life wholly spent within the walls of an ashram without lengthy periodic returns to the world, is an unbalanced one. On the other hand, it is equally true that a life wholly spent in the world's activities without periodical retreats into solitude or Nature is also an unbalanced one. Therefore, philosophy, in the true sense, places balance as one of its foremost practical aims. This reference to ashrams is used only by way of illustration.
The prudent and sensible way, which is also the philosophic way, is to retire from the world as and when such a course is needed, as and if one can, and then to turn one's back on retirement itself.
We gain our victory over the lower nature both by struggling with it and by flight from it. That is, we need the world-arena because of the temptations and oppositions which it provides to test our strength, try our character, and reveal the real measure of our attainment. But we also need places of solitary retreat where we can detach ourselves from the outward struggle occasionally, examine its nature analytically and survey ourselves coolly. Only by playing this double role of activist and hermit, householder and monk, only by practising this double movement of entering the fight and withdrawing from it, can we achieve that properly balanced progress which is solid to the core and is as substantial as it appears to be. Let it be added, however, that whereas the world's business must necessarily take a large share of our time and energy, the recess and quietude need take only a small one.
A balanced way of life requires a person to hold determinedly to this regular retreat while yet working actively in the world most of the time. In this way the world's destructive effect will be countered, the spiritual vitality will be renewed, and the inner tranquillity regained.
Jesus showed men what to do, for although he often went apart to commune with God, he always returned to live with his fellows.
Too much solitude is unnatural; too much society, unbearable.
It is not solitude nor society that must be universally prescribed but rather the rhythm of both together. It is their alternation, not their cancellation, that fosters true spiritual development.
Although the highest end of life cannot be to spend it idly in an ivory tower, this is only complementary to the other truth that occasional and temporary retreat to the tower for contemplation will help us to achieve that end.
It advocates a life of action punctuated by shorter periods of retreat to maintain spiritual balance. Then, amid the jar and jangle of city streets, he may yet keep an inward peace whilst he goes star-gazing. He doesn't despise the earth on which he stands.
We have looked outward long enough; it is now time to look inward as well.
Religion is for the gregarious many, mysticism for the solitary few, and philosophy for the very few who are above both gregariousness and solitude, who can embrace or dispense with either as necessary.
Although an obscure and peaceful life may be his desire, karma may will otherwise and bring fame and action, with their concomitant troubles, into his existence.
We need this rhythm of activity and retreat because we need time to deepen faith and freshen understanding, to recuperate spiritual forces and clarify inner vision.
It is true that the would-be mystic needs leisure and needs quiet but he does not need them all the time, only some of the time.
He moves in a different world of thought from that of the persons--and they are many--who are incapable of response to higher promptings, and he knows it. Therefore he must keep some part of his day--however small--for himself, some place where he can be by himself. Much nonsense is talked or preached in religious circles about "love," "community," and so on. It evaporates when the truth about it is sought. A man can start to give love when he has it to give, but he can give nothing when he has none of it. The ordinary man lives very much in his ego and can only give his egotism. If he seems to give love, there is an egoistic thought or motive behind it. The aspirant who immerses himself in somebody else's ego may make the latter feel happier but both are wallowing in the same element. Real service, real charity in the world are admirable things but rarely pure. The daily retreat from the world, if for higher purposes, may in the end be better for others, too. If a man uses these periods to get away from all other influences and seek only the divine presence, he may in time have something of it, even if only atmosphere, to bring others. His enjoyment of that presence cannot help but put really sincere goodwill into his attitude to them. The sharing of what he feels becomes a natural activity. This is love in a deeper more enduring sense, and more productive, too.
Just as philosophy advocates the rule of occasional and temporary retreats as being helpful to practise meditation, pursue study, and clarify the mind, so it advocates the rule of temporary asceticism as being helpful to purify desire, fortify will, and discipline the body. This is a component of its moral message to the present age just as total retreat and total asceticism was the right rule for former ages. Such a difference is of vast magnitude to the individual concerned and of vital importance to the society in whose midst he dwells. It is often a personal convenience to combine the two--the retreat with the asceticism--and thus keep any disturbance of social life to a minimum.
It is needful to correct mistaken impressions that it is wrong to try to escape from daily activity, and its troubles, into the silence. On the highest level, there actually are no problems, for the great work of evolution is then known to be all-inclusive and always effectual, and the world-experience is seen for what it is. The ultimate purpose of living itself is, of course, to attain this state. On the relative level, there coexists the necessity of accepting everyday life, together with its difficulties and problems, if we are to develop the resources needed in order to progress. The philosophic attitude reconciles both these viewpoints as being complementary and necessary to each other.
Those who seek closer conscious relationship with the Overself must pay the price, part of which is resistance to the allurements of using leisure only for pleasure.
Throughout the day he is to take advantage of odd moments to lift his mind to a higher level. The practice reveals positive qualities of strength and serenity not ordinarily known to be possessed by the person.
These reserved periods, these minutes scratched for his own best self, may be given to reflective thought or to silenced thought. The day's particular need or the hour's intuitive urge is to be the guiding finger to his decision.
It is not only in the special periods given over to the practice that mental quiet may be striven for, but also in the quite ordinary occupations of routine existence. But here a very short time--perhaps even a minute or two--will have to suffice. Nor can it go very deep. And it may have to be disguised or hidden to avoid drawing attention. Yet if it is repeated at every opportunity during the day some spiritual profit must emerge.
The method of recalling oneself, at the time the clock strikes the new hour, to the practice of an exercise in relaxation or to dwelling on a Declaration--and this only for a couple of minutes--is a valuable one.
He should cultivate the power to disengage himself mentally and emotionally, when busy with affairs or worldly occupations, and turn quickly towards prayer or meditation.
The shift from activity to repose should be sharply done, immediate, almost automatic.
Man's need to isolate himself temporarily but regularly from the world's turmoil is more urgent in this century than in any previous one. The intent should not be to escape but to rally the spiritual forces and recuperate from personal stresses, to take a proper look at the kind of life-pattern he is weaving and to note defects and plan amendments. No one would be worse and everyone would be better for taking a little time out of his day, for suspending his daily activities for perhaps a half hour every day, to "go into the silence." Life becomes spacious and unstrained, its horizon of daily living enlarged, when a still timelessness creeps into a man's make-up. He will become less hurried but not less active. He knows that his future is assured because his present conduct is serene and that it is safe because his present understanding is right.
The divine part of our being is always there; why then is it not available to us? We have to practise making ourselves available to It. We have to pause, listen inwardly, feel for Its blessed presence. For this purpose meditation is a valuable help, a real need.
He can practise for a single minute or for five minutes whenever opportunity shows itself. This may happen in his office during a pause between two interviews, in a railroad waiting room during the brief period before his train arrives, or in some other place.
His earthly business will not suffer in the end but he himself will gain much profit if he detaches himself from it once or twice a day to turn his attention toward celestial business for which he was really put on earth.
In whatever way he uses this period, whether to pray, to relax physically emotionally and mentally, or to meditate, the first need is to drop his affairs of the moment abruptly and let go of them completely during this short pause. No matter how tightly bound to a timed schedule his business has made him, here at least he enters a timeless world.
The meditation may be short but must be frequent, so that there is not enough room in one's life or mind for the world to swamp one completely.
It is more than a short respite from personal troubles, more than a white magic which leads him away from a hard and crazy world: it is a return to the source of Life.
The familiar routine of ordinary prosaic life should be broken into short periods of pause. In this way it may be possible sometimes to encounter the unfamiliar hidden background of all our thoughts.
By withdrawing his attention into himself, by becoming conscious of Consciousness, he rebuts the world.
He is asked to pause at least once a day in these worldly pursuits that are hindering him from hearing what the intuition can tell him. He is asked to centre himself, to draw his thoughts together on this single and supreme theme.
To introduce these calm moments quite deliberately and quite regularly is to introduce strength and depth into one's life.
If he cannot find a few minutes of his day to rest in the higher ideas and sacred aspirations, his life is indeed a failure, however successful it may be by other standards. What are all these other things in comparison with a divine visitation?
From these brief daily retreats he can gather enough strength to withstand the pressures of conformity and preserve his independence.
It is much more prudent to set the regular hour for this practice than to leave it to be set by caprice, for then he will not be able to find time for it at all.
There is so much power and light in these quiet periods that the public ignorance of meditation is more than regrettable.
He puts aside the world's problems and his own worldly problems so that in this cleared space within his mind, the divine peace may enter.
The capacity for contemplation rarely exists today among Western peoples. It is a new one for them to develop.
At the Lone Star Steel plant in Texas, there was erected at the company's expense in 1954 an interdenominational chapel for the use of their 3500 employees. The handsome building bears a large bronze plaque as a cornerstone, inscribed with the words: "For prayer and meditation, where men shall find light for darkness, assurance for confusion, and faith for doubt and despair."
Solitude is as necessary at certain times to the quester as society is to the chatterer. The man whose object in life is to find himself must provide these vacations of pause every day, if possible, every week if not, when he can be alone and meditate.
The man who cannot free himself for half an hour every day from overactivity whether in work or in entertainment is a self-made slave. To what better use could he put this small fraction of time than to withdraw for such a high purpose as seeking himself?
He is soon distracted by the routines, the duties, the cares, and the activities of life, however petty they are, so that the great eternal truths recede from his vision. This is why such periods of temporary withdrawal are absolutely necessary every day.
If he will take the time to withdraw for a short period from the continuous physical and mental activity that goes on from the moment of waking in the morning to the moment of falling asleep at night; if he will use this period to observe within himself certain delicate nuances of feeling and subtle changes of thought, he will begin to cultivate his awareness of soul, his own link with God.
The pause between the discharged breath and the intaken one is similar to the greater pause which takes place in nature between night and day at sunrise and between day and night at sunset. All these three points are important to man's inner life. But if he is ignorant and uninstructed he misses the opportunity to take the fullest advantage of them. Just as this can be done by meditating either at sunrise or at sunset, so it can be done by spiritual remembrance between the fall and the rise of two breaths.
Whenever one has the opportunity during the day, while not interrupting other duties, one should recall his aspiration for spiritual realization and rekindle it anew. It is equally necessary to pay strict attention to one's conduct and to work in the direction of achieving greater moral elevation, controlling the passions, subjecting the emotions. Good thoughts lead to good results.
Is it too much to ask a man to pause in each of his busy days long enough to cultivate the one faculty--intuition--which offers him an utterly disproportionate return for the investment of time and attention?
The modern man, who spends his working hours in a densely-peopled factory or office building and his pleasure hours in just as densely peopled playhouses, needs more than his forebears ever did this short daily period of solitude, relaxation, and silence.
Those who are willing to look beyond the day's familiar routines into wider spaces, willing to bring routines, activities and engagements to a complete halt for a while, put themselves in a better position to discover the transcendental self.
Men who are so extroverted that they can live only in external scenes and external activities need some counterpoise to redress the balance. This is well provided by a short daily period of meditation. They would still be a long distance from those pure introverts, the mystics, and they would still have their feet on earth.
Some city workers who feel it would be too trying to attempt the early morning practice, welcome the brief break of half their lunch hour which they spend in a quiet church. This is made possible, of course, only if they eat a simpler meal and if the church is near enough to their place of work. After the morning's stress, they are glad to have their minds calmed and nerves soothed by this brief retreat, even if no spiritual experience comes to them.
He is to give his mind the chance, at set intervals, to withdraw from the endless activity of filling itself with worldly, petty, or narrowly personal thoughts. He is to replace them all by the central thought of the Overself.
For all things a price must be paid. For this treasure of peace he must isolate a certain period daily, withdrawing it from personal affairs and devoting it to the search for inner stillness.
If you are not willing to interrupt your affairs to the extent of devoting a quarter or half hour, once or twice a day, to this practice, you are revealing what sense of values actuates you.
The perplexed men who work and walk in our larger cities seldom take time to consider metaphysical or mystical topics. Yet since these deal with the purposes of living and the fulfilment of human existence, they are worth a little thought every day.
Without belittling the practical values of daily living which the Western world shares everywhere, it must be said that a better-balanced use of its time would bring it a better realization of our spiritual possibilities. A period--however short--of physical isolation from its restless routine of bustle, work, and pleasure, repeated every day and used for meditation, would be well repaid. Nothing would be lost by playing the recluse for a few minutes or, better, for a fraction of an hour; but much would be gained.
Is it not worthwhile to shut out the busy world for a little while, with its turmoil and troubles, and withdraw into the grand silence and great peace which are to be found at a certain deep level within ourselves?
This period of withdrawal needed to disengage himself from the routine rounds of everyday living should be limited to circumstances.
What he finds emerging from these daily withdrawals enables him to support more calmly and more courageously the difficulties which offset the satisfactions of worldly life.
His hope lies in detaching himself for a short time daily from his normal routine, in brief separations from all that constitutes his personal life, or in impartial examinations of that life.
He must draw aside from the day's restless life and sit down for a while with himself and by himself.
The Overself asks to be alone with him for certain periods every day. This is not too much to ask, yet it seems too much to give for most people.
These isolated periods are to be devoted to another kind of mental life altogether, far away from that which preoccupies him during the rest of the day.
It is a practice which helps to transform character. The shallow-minded become deeper; the sharp-tongued become kinder.
If men were inwardly passive to the thought of the spiritual self for some minutes each day, they would be more wisely active the rest of each day.
A day may come when builders and architects will make a small room for silence and meditation a part of every structure--be it residential or business.
He may have quite valid reasons for living apart from the world and should therefore do so, but can he? Few in this modern era can find the freedom required, the place suitable, the circumstances permitting it. Nearly everyone and everything is hostile to such an intention. Total removal is almost impossible but partial removal may be attainable. What is within easier access for most persons is a temporary and partial removal. That is, in the privacy of home, to arrange a time and corner where he can hope to be left undisturbed for a half hour or longer to put his mind on something more uplifting than that which the worldly environment customarily demands from him. This recess over, this daily retreat ended, the confrontation with the kind of life he has established in the world to satisfy its requirements and his own personal needs for survival will have to be repeated.
It needs only a brief interval now and then to practise this self-recollection during the day; it is only a matter of two or three minutes.
A few minutes every day for relaxing the thoughts and feelings will help one to endure the harassments of time and activity. A little study now and then will reveal the Higher Purpose behind it all--and there is one!
No man is so busy that he cannot take a few minutes from his day or night for this purpose.
We dread the mysterious calm of Nature; we fear to break our own chains of activity and plunge into the still lagoon of meditation, and we dare not pause to question ourselves as to the meaning of it all.
Sometimes it is high wisdom to desert the world for awhile, resting in a hermitage or reposing with Nature. For a fresh point of view may be found there, what is happening within oneself may be better understood, the tired mind may gain some concentration, and the fringe of inner peace may be touched.
The opposition, struggle, and difficulty of life in the world provides the needed experience which teaches the man to control his grosser nature, leads him to discipline his animal self, and compels him to cultivate his intelligence. But it does not teach him about his higher nature or lead him to his mystical development. For this he must remove himself to solitary places from time to time where the forest, sea, or mountain can provide the necessary conditions for that.
He will come to look upon these seasons of private retreat as among the most valuable of his life. He will learn to regard these periods of self-recollection as oases in the contemporary desert. What he gains from them must not be put in the same category as the artificial spirituality which may be got from the public retreat of ashrams. For he comes into intimate realization of the living power within his own soul.
All men who refuse to engage perpetually in the struggles of worldly life are not necessarily insecure escapists, hesitant before problems, dangers, and difficulties they feel unable to cope with. Some are "old souls" who have had more than enough of such experiences and who feel the need to stand still for a proper evaluation of them rather than to continue a blind participation in them.
Let him take to rest and seclusion for a period of days or weeks, somewhere away from city noise and interruption. To those who say that circumstances make it impossible to do so it must be asked: what would you do if you were ordered to a hospital?
He will greatly profit if he retires from the world to be alone with Nature and his soul. But he should do that only occasionally and temporarily. In this way he makes use of the method of the retreat to refresh his aspiration, to purify his heart, and to intensify his mystical life.
The period of a retreat may be only a half-day, a weekend, or a whole month. It may even be a half-year. But it should not be longer.
If it is objected that this attention to self-discovery does not help the world or solve its problems, the answer is, first, that it is part of the way to help the world, second, it puts one nearer the source of inspiration, of creativity, so that one sees better how to solve those problems, and third, the isolation is temporary anyway and with each return to society one is a better person.
Those who escape from the world do not thereby escape from their worldly thoughts. The advantages of occasional temporary retreat from the world for study, reflection, or meditation are many; the advantages of permanently hiding from the world are few.
Philosophy asks no one to turn away from the world, for in its view the divine spirit is not absent from the world. But it counsels all aspirants to get away from the world from time to time, and especially at certain phases of their inner life.
When he is weary of his own ego, of the futility and frustration it leads him into, he can turn with relief to this precious retreat.
To retire and do nothing while others work and do something is not necessarily a sin. It may be so in the case of the young, the healthy, or of those with obligations: it is certainly not so in the case of the aspirant who has reached a crisis where he needs to get away for a time to give all his thought, all his energy, to the inner search for God.
Not all those persons whom our modern psychiatrists pronounce maladjusted to their environment, or escapists from it, are blameworthy. Why should they adjust tamely, or conform timidly, to the world as it is, to its many evils and spiritual ignorance? Why should they compromise and come to terms with something which can only degrade them? Who are the real cowards, the many who smugly accept such a world or the few who faithfully stick to the Ideal? It calls for courage to break with a familiar environment and to seek a new one that offers the chance to rise higher or, if remaining, to try to change it for the better.
If such retreat is to be most useful, it should be spent alone and with Nature.
When we walk under the groined arches of a cathedral we do not usually feel the same emotions as when we step out of the lift into the bargain basement of a department store. This is what I mean when I say that every place has its mental atmosphere, formed from thousands of thoughts bred in it; and this is why I suggest that retreat now and then into a secluded place for spiritual self-development is something worthwhile for the aspirant who is compelled to live amid the tumults of a modern city.
It was a good practice, that which was formerly done and is still having a fitful changeful existence in some places of Burma, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, whereby for a day or two any layman could go to a monastery and live there like the monks during the short period, and could repeat his visit every week or every month or every few months just as he wished. There would always be a place for him where he could practise meditation or study or consult or merely associate with the monks. This gave him a useful change of atmosphere.
Life in a monastery can never constitute a satisfactory or honourable end in itself. We may use these retreats for temporary refreshment of heart and renewal of mind, only to throw ourselves more powerfully into the world-struggle again.
An individual who has worked very hard all his life and feels an inner need to take some time off should do so. A rest of this sort lets the contemplative side of his nature come to the surface. He must keep worry and anxiety out of his thoughts during this time. Experience and observation have shown that nothing is lost in the end by such temporary retirement. Later on, if it becomes necessary to look for a new position, his own intuition and more philosophic outlook will be invaluable aids both in finding work and in carrying it out.
Most aspirants have to go through a period of withdrawal in order to devote some time to study and meditation. However, if they are to benefit from it, and not become idle dreamers, they must not commit the error of doing what is right at the wrong time. There is a definite time to attend to outer affairs and another, different time to withdraw from them. The two approaches can and should occur at certain periods of the same individual's life, at different times. Only fanatical extremists, or those who are utterly one-sided, say that we should live for ambition alone or for renunciation alone. Philosophy does not limit itself to such narrow attitudes.
The goodness and wisdom that are within us may be tremendous, but if we are not intuitively receptive to them, they might as well not be there. Retreat helps to make this receptivity.
If an annual short retreat is difficult to arrange, or of insufficient value, a retreat every two years for a longer period--say some months--may be more easily arranged and is certainly of superior value.
Only after one has been away from civilization for long stretches at a time, can one truly appreciate its physical and intellectual delights as well as really penetrate its hypocritical shams and outworn relics, its stupid snobbishness and frivolous aimlessness. Then it is that one realizes that to lead an independent existence is the only way.
The strife and opposition of the world give you the opportunity of testing progress, an opportunity which the monk does not get. Retreat, retirement, and solitude are certainly necessary, but only temporarily and not for a lifetime. Retreat for a limited time, for a week, for a day or for an hour, and then go, return to the deserted arena. Retreat for a month, or for six months or a year, if you feel the necessity of it, but go back and ascertain what you have really attained. Moreover, hold the rhythm of solitude in the midst of activity.
Thus retreat becomes occasional rather than permanent, a means to an end rather than an alternative end in itself. It is valuable to those who have become impatient with, and refuse to lose themselves completely in, the surface life of our frustrating, tumultuous times.
Each renewal of inner quiet during these short retreats not only endorses the value of meditation practice but makes life again worthwhile.
Is it not significant that Lord Byron found a strange peace of mind during the couple of months he spent daily visiting the Armenian Monastery on the Venetian island of San Lazzaro? His life had been tempestuous, his emotions elated and depressed by turns, but here he was, in his own words " contented . . . the most difficult attainment."
The risk of being carried away by the world is always present for those who try to spiritualize their life in the world rather than in a monastery or ashram. It is a risk which calls for watchfulness, management, and occasional periods of retreat.
A respected leader of one of the psychoanalytic movements criticized yoga because it was allied with retreat from the world, and so became a form of escapism which prevented the escapee from facing unpleasant personal problems. I answered that it could become such but it need not necessarily do so. So many criticisms--whether shallow or serious--have denounced "escapism" that the practices of retreat, solitude, and withdrawal, however brief and temporary, are regarded as things to be ashamed of. This is often wrong. They may be quite honourable.
It is practical wisdom to surrender the annual holiday to go to a summer school or periodic retreat for the purpose of intensive study, meditation, and, if possible, contact with those who are spiritually more advanced. If a competent teacher is there too, it will be better fortune.
There are times when he must live a withdrawn life for a while if the slender young plant beginning to grow within him is to survive.
The period of withdrawal is to be given over to intensified study and, more especially, to intensified practice of meditation exercises. They are to be days of recollection.
Anything that gives a man such uncommon power for living cannot rightly be labelled as an escape. Everything depends on the aim of the retreat, or the purpose for which it was made.
They are playing the truant from the world, true, but this does not necessarily mean that they are playing the truant from life.
We may not like the thought but it will bear the deepest analysis: a man has the right to withdraw himself from society, if he chooses to.
He does not come here to escape responsibility but to reexamine it, to see whether it be worthwhile and to what extent.
In these quiet solitary retreats he may gain a solid basis and a serene balance for all his future life. But this will be true only if he uses them wisely.
More and more a place is being found for spiritual retreats within oneself, whether it be practised at home or in a religious community house, whether in the city or the rural countryside, whether for an hour or a day.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.