I live in New York City with 8 million other people. I am a Rabbi in a Temple with over 2000 members. There are 125 apartments in my building. I have voice mails, e-mails, a cell phone and a blog. In my life, it can be hard to find solitude. And that is ok, because I am a people-person. I love being part of a Temple and a community. But sometimes we all need a few moments alone. It is then that I pack my waders into the car, drive to upstate New York, and spend some time in the cold water streams with only the occasional trout that I may be fortunate enough to land.
When fishing, I am always looking for that spot along the stream that is deserted. I leave behind the well known fishing holes, those with the famous names and stories of large trout rising to the fly. And instead I walk, hike and search for that spot on the river where the fishing may not be as good, but I can soak in the solitude. The places I crave are remote enough that my senses will only detect the sights and sounds of nature. The perfect spot is one where I see trees rather than other fishermen, and when I hear the sounds of rustling water, wind and crickets, rather than airplanes and cars.
A bit of solitude I enjoyed while fishing at Montauk State Park in Missouri.
Solitude is valuable because it cultivates within us other traits, like perspective. When I am on the stream, all of the everyday annoyances of life melt away. E-mails go unchecked, the cell-phone is out of range, and all of the problems at work, errands to be run and everyday problems begin to fade away. Fly fishing is about living in the moment, being so caught up in your casting and search for trout, that everything else disappears. The solitude of fly fishing brings a welcome break from the world.
Another form of perspective begins to rise when I am on the stream long enough, and that is the feeling of appreciation. After a while in my waders, I find myself counting my blessings. It is not the problems that come to the surface, but rather all of the good things I have: my health, family and friends. I recall good memories of the past. And I think of other blessings, having a job and a place to live. When alone in the cold water, I often say thank you, and I appreciate all of the amazing gifts that life offers.
Of course, the trout stream is not the only place to search for solitude, perspective and appreciation. These are found also when praying. In a Jewish house of worship, the room where one prays is called the Sanctuary. The name of the room describes its purpose; a Sanctuary is a place to escape from the outside world, to be protected, shielded and safe.
And even during a prayer service, when the sanctuary is filled with hundreds of people, there are still moments of precious solitude. During each service, I invite everyone in the congregation to pray silently. I often introduce the silent prayer this way: “Take a moment to close your eyes. Feel the air coming in and out of your lungs. Listen to your heart beat. And then offer a blessing for all that is good, holy and precious in your life.”
It turns out that we can find solitude when alone and with others—when fishing a deserted stream or when we close our eyes with 300 other people in a Sanctuary. For solitude is not just about being alone. It is about creating a space within ourselves. A space to find perspective. And a space to appreciate all that we have been given.