In 1840, Edgar Allan Poe described the ‘mad energy’ of an ageing man who roved the streets of London from dusk till dawn. His excruciating despair could be temporarily relieved only by immersing himself in a tumultuous throng of city-dwellers. ‘He refuses to be alone,’ Poe wrote. He ‘is the type and the genius of deep crime … He is the man of the crowd.’
Like many poets and philosophers through the ages, Poe stressed the significance of solitude. It was ‘such a great misfortune’, he thought, to lose the capacity to be alone with oneself, to get caught up in the crowd, to surrender one’s singularity to mind-numbing conformity. Two decades later, the idea of solitude captured Ralph Waldo Emerson’s imagination in a slightly different way: quoting Pythagoras, he wrote: ‘In the morning, – solitude; … that nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company.’ Emerson encouraged the wisest teachers to press upon their pupils the importance of ‘periods and habits of solitude’, habits that made ‘serious and abstracted thought’ possible.
In the 20th century, the idea of solitude formed the centre of Hannah Arendt’s thought. A German-Jewish émigré who fled Nazism and found refuge in the United States, Arendt spent much of her life studying the relationship between the individual and the polis. For her, freedom was tethered to both the private sphere – the vita contemplativa – and the public, political sphere – the vita activa. She understood that freedom entailed more than the human capacity to act spontaneously and creatively in public. It also entailed the capacity to think and to judge in private, where solitude empowers the individual to contemplate her actions and develop her conscience, to escape the cacophony of the crowd – to finally hear herself think.
In 1961, The New Yorker commissioned Arendt to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi SS officer who helped to orchestrate the Holocaust. How could anyone, she wanted to know, perpetrate such evil? Surely only a wicked sociopath could participate in the Shoah. But Arendt was surprised by Eichmann’s lack of imagination, his consummate conventionality. She argued that while Eichmann’s actions were evil, Eichmann himself – the person – ‘was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions.’ She attributed his immorality – his capacity, even his eagerness, to commit crimes – to his ‘thoughtlessness’. It was his inability to stop and think that permitted Eichmann to participate in mass murder.
Just as Poe suspected that something sinister lurked deep within the man of the crowd, Arendt recognised that: ‘A person who does not know that silent intercourse (in which we examine what we say and what we do) will not mind contradicting himself, and this means he will never be either able or willing to account for what he says or does; nor will he mind committing any crime, since he can count on its being forgotten the next moment.’ Eichmann had shunned Socratic self-reflection. He had failed to return home to himself, to a state of solitude. He had discarded the vita contemplativa, and thus he had failed to embark upon the essential question-and-answering process that would have allowed him to examine the meaning of things, to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood, good and evil.
‘It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong,’ Arendt wrote, ‘because you can remain the friend of the sufferer; who would want to be the friend of and have to live together with a murderer? Not even another murderer.’ It is not that unthinking men are monsters, that the sad sleepwalkers of the world would sooner commit murder than face themselves in solitude. What Eichmann showed Arendt was that society could function freely and democratically only if it were made up of individuals engaged in the thinking activity – an activity that required solitude. Arendt believed that ‘living together with others begins with living together with oneself’.
But what if, we might ask, we become lonely in our solitude? Isn’t there some danger that we will become isolated individuals, cut off from the pleasures of friendship? Philosophers have long made a careful, and important, distinction between solitude and loneliness. In The Republic (c380 BCE), Plato proffered a parable in which Socrates celebrates the solitary philosopher. In the allegory of the cave, the philosopher escapes from the darkness of an underground den – and from the company of other humans – into the sunlight of contemplative thought. Alone but not lonely, the philosopher becomes attuned to her inner self and the world. In solitude, the soundless dialogue ‘which the soul holds with herself’ finally becomes audible.
Echoing Plato, Arendt observed: ‘Thinking, existentially speaking, is a solitary but not a lonely business; solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about … when I am one and without company’ but desire it and cannot find it. In solitude, Arendt never longed for companionship or craved camaraderie because she was never truly alone. Her inner self was a friend with whom she could carry on a conversation, that silent voice who posed the vital Socratic question: ‘What do you mean when you say …?’ The self, Arendt declared, ‘is the only one from whom you can never get away – except by ceasing to think.’
Arendt’s warning is well worth remembering in our own time. In our hyper-connected world, a world in which we can communicate constantly and instantly over the internet, we rarely remember to carve out spaces for solitary contemplation. We check our email hundreds of times per day; we shoot off thousands of text messages per month; we obsessively thumb through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We search for friends of friends, ex-lovers, people we barely know, people we have no business knowing. We crave constant companionship.
But, Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in’ – no longer able, in the cage of thoughtless conformity, to distinguish ‘right from wrong, beautiful from ugly’. Solitude is not only a state of mind essential to the development of an individual’s consciousness – and conscience – but also a practice that prepares one for participation in social and political life. Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Source: THE RISE OF MCSPIRITUALITY
With thanks to Cyrus Kirkpatrick for permission to reprint his article. Cyrus also has written a book about “Understanding Life After Death” available through Amazon, Book Depository, links below.
Those of us who’ve read any amount of spiritual literature will find more than a few contradictions. Among the most noticeable relates to the conditions of our existence immediately post death. There are two camps:
The first camp believes that when we die, we more or less retain things like our individualities, personalities, and level of knowledge before we died. In other words, “the journey continues.”
The second camp believes we are instantly transformed into Beings of Light. Any flaws or issues we had in this life are immediately purified. You may hear this camp say things like, “Everything in this world is a stage when we die the play ends, and we return to Source.”
And, there’s a reasonable third “grey area” that may be a mix of both elements.
The first camp is supported, in particular, by researchers of direct spirit communication. That includes information presented through physical mediumship sources (such as David Thompson, Scott Milligan, Leslie Flint, and others) as well as most information from Spiritualist sources dating all the way back to Swedenborg in the 1700s. This opinion is also commonly supported by out-of-body practitioners who have experienced leaving their bodies and communicating with the deceased – often discovering people from this world living surprisingly similar lives as before they crossed over – within a different, albeit modified or enhanced, version of our current universe.
These are not the only sources. Another example is Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian yogi/guru who penned “Autobiography of a Yogi.” This highly influential spiritual teacher from the early 20th century famously recounts what the astral realm is like – and it matches up in a consistent way. He describes the other side as amazingly similar to our world. According to Yogananda, this is because the astral plane is also a bodily incarnation (and counts as a realm that one may reincarnate into). He teaches his followers to be mindful of their journey and their karma, because death will not provide instant spiritual attainment, but is merely a continuation of another physical existence. No matter what, we must walk the path of spiritual attainment ourselves, no matter how long it takes.
The Instant-Enlightenment Camp
The second camp is primarily reinforced by literature from near death experience books, pop mediumship, and channelers. It’s also part of an overall culture in various pop-spirituality circles.
As an example, the popular “Channeling Erik” community has included alleged communications from highly negative people in this life, such as Hitler. In the Channeling Hitler video, a medium suggests that Hitler was an “angelic” entity; and apparently suffering no great consequences in the afterlife. The Channeling Erik community also published an alleged channelling of the San Bernadino ISIS-affiliated shooters; who lost their lives during a 2015 terrorist attack. Going by the narrative that all who die are transformed into Beings of Light – there was no mention of consequences for their actions.
Another site that proposes this theory is Afterlife 101. This highly singular perspective of the other side proposes all who cross over enter a purely non-physical domain as Light Beings, that our individualities blend and dissolve, negative emotions do not exist, and we each become spiritually omniscient. In this view, there is no physical element to the afterlife and the dichotomy of mind influencing matter dissolves into the afterlife being pure “mind.” This creates a common interpretation that the afterlife itself is a dream-like, insubstantial realm (this is in conflict with the reports by direct spirit communication).
(To be fair, I am uncertain what the Afterlife 101 alleged channellers say about negative consequences for actions in this life. I find their work to be unbearable to read—but they may, in fact, warn about negative consequences of actions somewhere in their essays. I haven’t seen it, though.)
Today, this point of view is commonly associated with the New Age movement and sprinkled throughout metaphysical books, TV shows and communities.
Why the Instant-Enlightenment Idea is a Philosophical Nightmare
Now, at last, I am going to editorialise about this subject. The second camp—the Instant Enlightenment people—have been drawn in by a seductive, albeit highly limiting, point of view.
What this philosophy teaches is that no matter how messed up your life is—all you have to do is die and all your problems are instantly solved, because we are each a “Being of Light” waiting to emerge.
You can be utterly useless in this life—not lifting a finger to help people around you—in fact, you could even be a murderous monster—and you will STILL become a “Being of Light” as, after all, life is just a stage and we are its actors.
There is the very little conception of what we even do in our Light Being form. Literal descriptions of the afterlife from this camp are often negligent and devoid of details. As our imaginations are left to wander, most of us conceptualise a form of the religious imagery of sitting on top a cloud—basking in only positive emotions for eternity.
Nonetheless, the heavenly cloud concept where we all become angels is a fun way to completely alleviate oneself of responsibility. It’s also an extremely marketable message. It’s the pinnacle of the pop self-help movement; where adherents of “The Secret” believe they can visualise chocolate cake making them thin—and now they can indulge in whatever they desire. Now, their endless issues, addictions and personality problems too can be alleviated through the simple act of dying.
I am absolutely amazed by the stunning lack of critical thinking in this community. No proponent of this point of view that I’ve met has stopped to think, “You know, if there are no consequences and we all become angels, this means life can be spent in an utterly nihilistic fashion. I could rape, murder and pillage without consequence because every action is pre-determined as part of God’s plan.”
This point of view also makes our individual existences highly transient; that we essentially dissolve who we are at death.
This point of view is ultimately what some in the afterlife community have dubbed McSpirituality, where instant enlightenment is handed out with the same level of discrimination as a fast food clerk handing out cheeseburgers. In this view, we do not need to practice a path of service to others to raise our vibrations—nor a path of raising our own consciousness—because we automatically become All-Knowing.
What Spirits Actually Say
All reputable spirit communication warns against the mythology of death alleviating all problems. Mature spiritual information, like that which is taught by Silver Birch (brought from the highly reputed medium Maurice Barbanel), is that we are inexorably linked to our actions in this life, that the afterlife is only one step above the world where we live now and higher realms must be earned. Far from all souls becoming Beings of Light, if we perform cruel actions against others we will fall back into dismal, dark planes and conditions—such as the horrific realms described in Anthony Borgia’s seminal work “Life in the World Unseen” (written through the channelled spirit Monsieur Hugh Benson).
Through my own experiences in out-of-body states (as I describe in, ” Understanding Life After Death”), I’ve interviewed those living on the other side of the veil who describe their lives as being similar to before they died. Many have jobs, friends and interests—dwelling in physical existences, often at the prime of their lives (28-32) and in perfect health. While this condition is less physical than how we are now, it’s far from existence as an orb of light devoid of human characteristics.
As this realm closest to us in the astral is more like a continuation, it also means a realm filled with varied personalities and interests, with both a negative and positive spectrum. This astral existence is consistent with reports throughout the long history of spirit contact, including the concept that many of us go on to work in “rescue teams” to assist people trapped in dark, dismal or even hellish conditions.
The denial of the existence of the negative spectrum flies in the face of centuries of contact with the other side. Essentially, it’s like throwing out libraries of knowledge and replacing it with some New Age authors who appeared once on Oprah.
Where Some of this Information Comes From
My personal theory about this philosophy is that it’s a gross mistranslation of sporadic reports stemming from channelled spirits of a higher density (keeping in mind that channelling is one of the least reliable ways to glean spirit information).
It’s safe to say the astral plane is a real density we transfer our consciousness to at death—due to an endless amount of reports of physical realms similar to our own Earth. However, there’s a smaller but relevant amount of reports (especially in NDE literature) of cosmic or celestial realms where our individual minds connect to our Higher Selves.
These realms are often beyond description, and are certainly not dismal existences on clouds, but are realms where the individual soul is completing a timeless journey of self-refinement and knowledge, coming into being in a realm where they have merged almost entirely with a “divine” level of their existence commonly known as the Higher Self.
I think at times a person has incarnated on Earth who is an extremely “old” soul. Such a soul may belong naturally to these celestial realms, and during an NDE for instance—they glimpse such a realm and report their experiences.
(As a side note, these types of realms are generally “beyond” the scope of an incarnated existence, which includes both this realm and the astral—which as Yogananda described is also an incarnation. However, just because a soul may journey beyond physical incarnation does not mean the inhabitants of those realms are disconnected from incarnated realms and exist forever floating on some cloud. In fact, it would seem even exalted spirits attuned to their Higher Selves and originating in such realms can appear as physical humans in not only the astral dimension—but even as incarnated persons on this planet.)
The mistake occurs when “the masses” read these accounts but fail to apply critical thinking. They come to the incorrect conclusion that these celestial realms are accessible by everyone—even the most dismal or cruel souls. In a desire to avoid the responsibility of spiritual progression (a long, hard process) they reaffirm their belief system by convincing themselves that even an entity as dark as Hitler is just as progressed as Buddha—that everyone is on the same page, and everyone is instantly enlightened.
Finally, I believe this point of view is heavily influenced by Western Christianity infused into our ways of thinking. Since the rise of the New Age movement, we’ve found a convergence occurs between Christian thought and Spiritualist thought. In some cases, people cling to the ideas of theological merging – that our individual existences are forfeit in the light of God. They may also cling to the imagery of “angels” and the idea of becoming perfect or exalted merely through being “saved.” The idea of death creating instant enlightenment is reminiscent of Christian theory that a cruel, dark person can merely renounce Satan and praise Jesus at the end of his life – and instantly go to heaven and become an angel.
It’s nothing short of wishful thinking.
Link to Cyrus Kirkpatrick’s book from: