A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Social Passions

In this passage from the Eighth Walk in The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker Rousseau reminds us that, in order to appreciate a walk in nature with all its charms, you must leave behind the disturbance of the vain ideas of the drawing room, the fumes of self-love and the tumult of the world, and social passions and their sad retinue:
I remember perfectly that during my brief moment of prosperity these same solitary walks which are so delightful for me today were insipid and boring. When I was at someone's house in the country, the need to get some exercise and to breathe fresh air often made me go out alone; and sneaking away like a thief, I would go walk about the park or the countryside. But far from finding the happy calm I savor there today, I took along the disturbance of the vain ideas which had preoccupied me in the drawing room. Memory of the company I had left followed me into solitude. The fumes of self-love and the tumult of the world made the freshness of the groves seem dull and troubled the peace of the retreat. I fled deep into the woods in vain; an importunate crowd followed me everywhere and veiled all of nature to me. It is only after having detached myself from social passions and their sad retinue that I have again found nature with all its charms.
What a lot of truth there is in this! I'm sure we all recognise that feeling of sometimes not being able to shake off the vain cares and idle demands of society when we go for a walk. In society we often find ourselves "performing" and adhering to a rôle, doing what's expected of us. On a solitary walk however we suddenly realise that it's just ourselves and nature. We can go this way or that way in complete freedom. We don't have to impress the rivers, the rocks and the trees. They don't judge us or want anything from us. They are just there. They are simply and magnificently themselves.


Anonymous said...

yes, and we suddenly drop our masks and show our genuine face to the trees

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Too many, I think, confuse solitary with lonely. To be alone is not always to be lonely; solitude, giving time to yourself, having the freedom to shed the veneer of society and convention, to momentarily set aside friendship, love, responsibility, worry, schedule—all those things which pull our lives and days hither and yon—is not only a great relief, but a human necessity.

You simply can’t do this in a city. But the natural world—whether back-of-beyond wilderness, or a few yards off the park path—can give you back something which your soul needs, but which is ours alone, an individual replenishment, hidden and unavailable unless we’re solo.

The Solitary Walker said...

Well, I agree with you absolutely, Grizzled. 100 per cent. You can be alone but not lonely. Similarly you can be lonely in a crowd of people.

I have found in my wanderings another interesting paradox: that the most independent, self-contained, self-reliant of people - those who positively relish solitude - can often be the most sociable and companionable of people.

I enjoyed a near-perfect mix of necessary solitude and occasional, rewarding companionship on my Camino journeys.

Tom said...

inspired by this post and conversation:


we spotted her just up ahead
they said
she was going over that ridge
where the birches all stand like
a mystical fence- she was just there
winding her way-
we saw this,
none of the bramble that
caught us up, was catching on her

was she alone? we asked
saw no other- the reply
how did you know it was her?
the forest seemed to know
they said

at the hermit shack
we inquired again
just through those pines
Ive seen

was she alone? we asked
I dont think so- the reply
who was with her?
the entire world
how do you know this?
he said,
I saw it
there was nothing
that could catch on her

at the base of the next ridge
the water ran cool and swift
spring thaws seeing to the health
of these woods
along towards the bend
where the path parted way
we saw it
the eddies and snags
were there just to prove
as she glided down the quick
and slid into the deeper greens
beyond us
we were caught by the beauty
she left

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

You are indeed right, the "lone wolves" of society are almost always companionable, a joy to have in a crowd, and the one you want, should you be capable of earning their trust, for a friend.

am said...

Thanks so much for this post, solitary walker! I've been alone but not lonely for a long long time, and yet there have been times when I have been unable to detach myself from the "social passions" of my life.

One of those times, I was on a solo trip through Washington, Oregon and into Northern California and was eager to be walking in the Redwood forest near the Eel River in Humboldt County. What a painful day that was when, while walking on the trails surrounded by immense trees that are sacred to me, I felt only the darkest despair. Then again, what better place to be with that despair?

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Interesting, and I agree with your comment that 'the most independent ... of people ... can often be the most sociable and companionable of people'.

Maybe this is because they have attained that inner 'field independence', so that wherever they are, whoever they are with, they can be themselves - and graciously so.

The Solitary Walker said...

So many thanks to everyone for all these comments, poems and philosophies.

"They can be themselves... and graciously so". I like that. We have all met such people. I met some on the Camino. I would like to aspire to this!

Am, your comment resonated strongly with me. I have been alone "in nature" miles and miles from anywhere - and had similar feeings of despair and alienation.

Then again, I have sometimes, but rarely, also had almost mystical feelings of ecstasy.

But usually it's just a lazy, comfortable enjoyment - interspersed with twinges of foot pain, hunger and thirst! Such are our human weaknesses/necessities!

Val said...

I really enjoyed your post as well as the comments from your readers!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thamks, Val, for dropping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed reading this. I agree - some of those comments are quality stuff!