Written by Katie Mock
“If the wind no longer calls to you, it is time to see if you have forgotten your name.”
-Elegos A’Kla , from Michael A. Stackpole’s I, Jedi
I spent a day up in Muir Woods this past week; apart from the woman from whom I bought my ticket, and some tourists I passed near the entrance, I did not see or speak to a soul for over 24 hours. There, among the slender, towering coastal redwoods and distant birdsong, I was alone. There is a long history across all spiritual traditions of being alone. Vigils, vision quests, fasting, retreats, all of these require the practitioner to seek solitude. Why is that? What do we gain as people and as Jedi from being alone?
Firstly we gain clarity. Although we spend every day of our lives balancing the various demands on our time and resources and processing the myriad sources of sensory input, we are not always great at it. Temporarily removing the pressure of your responsibilities and the hectic quality of everyday life is usually a welcome change of pace. It becomes easier to notice where we are tense, if we are stressed, and to breathe easy, gathering strength for future efforts.
Secondly, we gain awareness. Most of us are rarely alone. We live in cities full of people, and even when we are physically alone we reach out to connect to others through social media and our phones. We are always within reach of another person, always ‘on call’ in some way or another. When those things are stripped away, when there is no one around, no cell signal, no internet, no television to pull us away from our immediate experiences, we are forced to be present with our surroundings, and with ourselves. Often this makes people deeply uncomfortable. We have become so used to the constant hum of interaction, so dependent on the support of others that when faced with only ourselves for company, we are startled.
Don’t get me wrong, the support of others is invaluable, and being connected with our fellow creatures is vital to being a Jedi. But, as Corran Horn says in I, Jedi, “If you can’t recognize the man in the mirror, it is time to step back and see when you stopped being yourself.”
Lastly, we gain acceptance. When your only choice is to be alone, when you have isolated yourself, even for a day, an hour, you can either spend the entire stretch of time uncomfortable, afraid to face who you are, or the problems you have ignored for too long, or you can relax, acknowledge yourself, and enjoy your own company. You can accept yourself for who you are, or who you have become when you weren’t looking, and dig into that person. Who are you? Do you like that person? How did you become that person, and how can you get to know them better? It is only in knowing yourself well that you can build and maintain the confidence and acceptance that we all need to be stable and happy. And as Jedi, we cannot act for others if we are not stable and accepting within ourselves.
I went into the woods tense, my mind racing between projects and responsibilities as it had been for months and months. But I left with a profound sense of quiet certitude, and a stronger knowledge of who I was, and what I am capable of. All it took was breathing some fresh air, saturating my vision with green and trees, and spending some quality time alone.