“The first time I knew what it was to be alone, and to like it, was on the island of Corfu. The second time it happened, despite all my talk of not being alone, was here at Big Sur.
To be alone, if only for a few minutes, and to realize it with all one’s being, is a blessing we seldom think to implore. The man of the big city dreams of life in the country as a refuge from all that plagues him and renders life intolerable. What he fails to realize, however, is that he can be more alone, if he chooses, in the midst of ten million souls than in a tiny community. To experience the feeling of aloneness is a spiritual achievement. The man who runs away from the city in search of this experience may find to his chagrin, particularly if he has brought with him all the cravings which city life fosters, that he has succeeded only in becoming lonely. ‘Solitude is for wild beasts or the gods,’ said someone. And there is truth in it.
Only when we are truly alone does the fullness and richness of life reveal itself to us. In simplifying our lives, everything acquires a significance hitherto unknown. When we are one with ourselves the most insignificant blade of grass assumes its proper place in the universe. Or a piece of manure, for that matter. Properly attuned, it’s all one come Christmas, as we say. One thing becomes just as important as another, one person as good as another. Lowest and highest become interchangeable. The own precious self gets swallowed up in the ocean of being. It is then that the carrion bird no longer seems hideous, nor merely to be tolerated because of its scavenger propensities. Nor do the stones in the field then seem inanimate, or to be regarded with an eye toward future walls and buttresses. Even if it last for only a few moments, the privilege of looking at the world as a spectacle of unending life and not as a repository of persons, creatures and objects to be impressed into our service, is something never to be forgotten. The ideal community, in a sense, would be the loose, fluid aggregation of individuals who elected to be alone and detached in order to be at one with themselves and all that lives and breathes. It would be a God-filled community, even if none of its members believed in (a) God. It would be a paradise, even though the word had long disappeared from our vocabulary.
In all the cities and countries I dream of visiting one day there are, of course, no such communities. Even in the holiest places man is prone to act the fool, the bigot, the idolater. As I said before, today we find only individuals dedicated to ‘the good life.’ Nevertheless, these isolated individuals are bringing about a community which will one day replace the dismembered warring communities which are a disgrace to the name. The world does tend to become one, however much its component elements resist. Indeed, the stronger the resistance the more certain is the outcome. We resist only what is inevitable.”—Henry Miller in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (New York: New Directions, 1957)