Alone Together

by James McBride

“The necessary thing is after all but this; solitude, great inner solitude. Going into oneself for hours meeting no one – this, one must be able to attain.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I’m glad that Sunday sittings have begun again. There is something about mornings. I look forward to solitary walks along a still slightly wild stretch of the river listening for leaves falling to the ground on the winding dirt path through the Cottonwoods whispering goodbye to summer and welcoming autumn and, soon, winter. Then across Sherbrook and Maryland, then along Westminster to Yoga North to WIMG where I can be alone together with others.

It was midway through my first long retreat many years ago that I realized how much I enjoyed being with others without feeling it necessary to talk. Walking, eating, and sitting in silence, shoulder to shoulder rather than eye to eye, became strangely comfortable.

In that sanctuary of solitude, as concentration grew stronger, my relationship with things around me started to change. I remember the delight I experienced one morning holding a cup of tea. The shape of the cup. The weight of it. The smoothness of the cup’s surface and the warmth. The aroma. I sat there for some time with those utterly amazing yet completely ordinary sensations.

Our sitting practice is a portal into that sanctuary of solitude. As Norman Fischer says in Aloneness and Togetherness, “We enter into a true solitude which means we go beyond the usual idea of self and our personal need, and in that true solitude we realize that we’re not alone or lonely because when we find ourselves at our deepest core, we find everything. When we learn how to be intimate with ourselves, completely accepting the whole of ourselves, we’re intimate with everything.”

I’m glad that Sunday sittings have begun again