There are days when I dream of going to a beautiful isolated place where I can escape the pressures of daily life and clear out the gunk in my mind.
The problem is that I simply don’t have the luxury of time for such a venture, so the best I can do for now at least is snatch a couple of days’ break here and there during my travels or read about other people’s experiences and imagine myself in their place.
In A Hermit in the Himalayas Paul Brunton, a journalist and spiritual writer most famous for his classic A Search in Secret India, recounts a trip he made up to the mountains of what is now Himachal Pradesh in Northern India during the 1930s and the months he spent in a small bungalow meditating and enjoying his solitude amid the stunningly beautiful surroundings.
Brunton was clearly inspired by the forbidding peaks and lush countryside, and the book is peppered with some quite wonderful descriptions of the nearby landscape, such as this one:
“Many parts of the tangled ridges which lie all around us are too rocky to possess vegetation, while others are dense with green growths and clothed with forests upon every side. Yet even the brown drabness of the barren rocks is broken here and there by solitary wild mountains flowers, nearly all with heads and petals so tiny as to appear like units of a Japanese miniature garden. Dainty white marguerites and yellow, pink and white daisies peep into the air upon the slenderest of stems; occasional forget-me-nots grow in the crevices between stones and make me stop to gaze at their haunting colourings; a single miniature marigold flaunts its yellow beauty amongst the green moss on the inner side of a rock-cut trail; ….. exquisitely small-petalled violets are here, too, and even the English yellow primrose finds a fitful existence.”
Brunton did not go on this trip just to enjoy nature, but also on a spiritual quest to find inner peace and spiritual calm through regular meditation amid the solitude. To some extent, his quest is akin to that of the ancient Indian Yogis and holy men who are reputed to have found enlightenment in the Himalayas after many years of rigorous asceticism.
But Brunton is too much of a realist to want to live the rest of his life in ascetic isolation, and he warns aspiring modern-day holy men against withdrawing completely from the everyday world:
“I think a man will be a better Yogi if he uses the wild and lonely places of Nature as temporary retreats alone, and not as permanent habitations. Use solitude but do not abuse it…. Let them retire from active life for periods of retreat…… but let them then return to the world which they have deserted and plunge into active existence as the next phase of their being.”
Indeed, even though was written over fifty years ago A Hermit in the Himalayas provides some very useful advice on how to lead a balanced life in today’s increasingly frenetic times, and it gives valuable pointers as to how can find our own “oases of calm in a world of storm” without having to go to the Himalayas to find them.