“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

I thought I would take a break in our extended discussion of contentment to record some reflections on my first day as a substitute teacher. In my philosophical journey, I have gradually come to believe that educating and mentoring young people might contribute to my subjective assessment of life as meaningful. I offer the following three reasons: (1) It offers a unique opportunity to fulfill supererogatory duty (as a counter to past and present vices) especially if I donate the salary paid to me to the very classes I teach, (2) It adds a novel professional purpose to life, and (3) It holds out the promise of a limited ‘metaphorical immortality’ in the form of lasting (if uncertain) influence on some who will outlive me.

Originally I thought I would like to be a direct mentor to one young person at a time through Big Brothers, but was stymied by some logistic issues. With the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors causing a teacher shortage in my community, it seemed fate prodded me to help out in the public schools. Näive as it sounds, I thought I might just call the local Board of Education and try substitute teaching on the fly at my former elementary and high schools only to learn that this would not be possible. Instead I  had to complete a full application for employment by the local public school system. After a surprisingly complex, application process I was officially hired as an Emergency Substitute starting August 10, 2022. Interestingly orientation was limited to two brief training videos and a 47 page substitute teaching manual.

“Ready to go,” I first inadvertently signed up for a 1st grade class (I was hoping for 3rd or 4th grade), but the teacher and school wisely found a more experienced substitute. Still in that same week, I next selected a 7th grade math and science class at a magnet school (Noe Middle School1), and asked the regular teacher to contact me to help familiarize me with details and expectations. This was the beginning of a fascinating experience. The teacher, a smart, confident amiable woman in her 40s called and reassured me a physician would make an excellent substitute for her classes, especially since the current science module was built around tissue healing on a child with a broken foot. She had prepared everything I would need and assured me that expectations for substitute coverage are limited, mainly she hoped I could keep the class from degenerating into utter mayhem. Any progress on the curriculum would be an added bonus.

(continued next post)


1Sam V. Noe was a former superintendent of the Jefferson County Public School system.


When there is no desire all things are at peace.” – Laozi

Our final mode for seeking contentment takes us back to the topic of asceticism. I have already performed a detailed analysis of asceticism in the section titled Suffering.1 In that section, asceticism was posited as voluntary suffering, or at least privation, specifically with a goal to some philosophical benefit. Purported benefits included enlightenment, escape from rebirth, happiness, mystical union, salvation, resistance to temptation, and preparation for service to the divine. However today our interest is on its facilitation of inner tranquility. I will backtrack to some of that analysis apropos to our current focus.

Starting with Buddha, we saw that he professes that human suffering (discontent for our purpose today) is due to desire, but the paradoxical solution is privation and the elimination of desire, hence contentment comes not from satisfying desires, but from consciously neutralizing sources of discontent. Buddha proposes an Eightfold Path to enlightenment which includes three components that dovetail with our ongoing search for tranquility: right thoughts, right mindfulness, and right concentration. In the West, the Cynics, seeking the “happiness of a dog” identify contentment envisioned as complete freedom. For them poverty is the paradoxical avenue to peace and content. On the contrary, some Christian aesthetics seem to think giving up one’s freedom (i.e. living in a monastery) is the route to “security and peace.”2

In my synthesis on asceticism, I argued philosophically sound asceticism included five key requirements.3 Three of these reference contentment directly or indirectly: (1) it contributes to one’s happiness and contentment (2) it involves life in harmony with nature, and (3) it develops self-discipline especially the features of self-sufficiency and true freedom. I also noted that asceticism is most philosophically defensible when it takes the form of moderation following for example Buddha’s Middle Way.

We might be tempted to see asceticism and solitude as two sides of the same coin, but this is probably mistaken; both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche endorse solitude but denounce asceticism. In fact one can embrace solitude without surrendering the comforts of normal living and one can practice asceticism as a member of a community such as in a monastery. It seems to me that silence and stillness, solitude, and asceticism function as three portals (to borrow  a term from Eckhardt Tolle) to contentment.

Next time, before summarizing this section, we will pause to examine the thoughts of Horace, the classical Roman poet, as one vision of the ideal life of contentment.


1See posts on this site: Suffering – Asceticism, Parts I to VII, dated 4/1, 4/3, 4/6, 4/24, 4/27, 4/29, 5/1, 5/4, and 5/6/20

2Durant, Will, The Age of Faith. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1950. ISBN 0-671-01200-1, page 519.

3See post on this site: Suffering – Asceticism – Part VII – Synthesis, dated 5/6/2020.


Last time we saw how Svendsen decoupled the two antipodes of aloneness into loneliness and solitude, noting solitude is the healthy side which integrates the personality for contentment and contemplation. Svendsen then informs of us of a clinically validated tool for measuring one’s capability for solitude called the Preference for Solitude Scale (available on line; my score was 11 out of 12; norms from a sample of undergraduate college students:  4.87 – 2.57. He thinks the need for distractions is evidence of emotional immaturity, but I am not so sure – it may be people find contentment in different ways (consider the quiet of a church in silent prayer). Some thinkers believe solitude can be learned as a ‘self-doubling’ or creation of a conversant duplicate of oneself, in fact, a filling of the self by the self, that may lead to a richer inner life.

I now draw from two other chapters In Svendsen’s book to incorporate aloneness into the meaning of life. Early on, Svendsen informs us that “it is an established fact that both chronic loneliness and experimentally induced social isolation are connected to lower levels of experienced life meaning.”5 He offers thoughts from William James, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Adam Smith, and David Hume to expand this point, drawing ever closer to two conclusions: (1) the effect of seclusion on a person depends on “how the individual relates to that condition,”6 and (2) “for most of us our connection to a limited number of people constitutes the majority of our life meaning.” 7 Later he returns to the effect of aloneness on life meaning proposing that “belonging is essential in order for us to experience our lives as meaningful.”8 However the desirable degree of ‘belonging’ is quite variable, and the urge to privacy and independence is common, even natural, but must not be raised to a point of alienation from society.

So where is the balancing point? Svendsen, following Harry Frankfurt, thinks we must take responsibility for any unwanted loneliness – being alone is not imposed from without but originates from within, by one’s choices and one’s attitude. Nonetheless, he doubts the value of extended solitude and the idea of self-sufficiency. For him, it is up to us to allow someone into our loneliness, thereby erasing it in community while learning to benefit from solitude as well: “…you must learn to live with the fact that every human life will contain loneliness to some degree. That is why it is so critical to learn to tolerate loneliness and to hopefully transform that loneliness into solitude. Loneliness can be reduced by learning to rest in yourself, so that you are not so dependent on other’s acknowledgement of you…”9

I surmise that a wise, mature person pursuing solitude as a means to contentment will always balance it with enough belonging and approachability that loneliness is minimized and serenity is maximized. This likely varies for each of us and so we must travel that road individually. I can only hope that my readers find their Archimedean point for solitude in route to the meaningful life.


5 Svendsen, Lars, A Philosophy of Loneliness. Reaktion Books, Ltd., London, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78023-747-3, page 24.

6Ibid., page 27.


8Ibid., page 131.

9Ibid., page 138.


“A wise man is never less alone than when he is alone.” – Jonathan Swift.

In the first two parts of this segment, we saw how Michel de Montaigne and Arthur Schopenhauer viewed solitude in the search for lasting contentment and a meaningful life. Today we consider thoughts of one of the foremost contemporary experts in this area, Lars Svendsen. In his book, A Philosophy of Loneliness,1 Svendsen addresses at length loneliness as the negative pole of being alone especially towards a goal of eradicating some of the stereotypical narratives coming out of the media.

Being alone, he tells us, is by nature entirely neutral; rather one’s subjective experience distinguishes loneliness from solitude, the positive pole. Loneliness is to some extent an emotion which has little to do with proximity to others; perhaps the worst loneliness occurs in the most crowded cities. His thesis is divided into eight chapters – covering psychology and social science, the nature of loneliness as an emotion, who tends to be lonely and why (distrust being a key reason), the value of friendship and love, distinguishing features with respect to modernity, and amelioration through assuming responsibility for one’s experience of being alone. But the chapter which interests us here is the seventh, ‘Solitude’ especially as it relates to contentment.

Svendsen begins with a review of perspectives on solitude by Western philosophers from ancient Greece through modern existentialism. We hear again that Aristotle believes the best life is one of contemplation and self-sufficiency. Petrarch is more cautious; “solitude alone cannot guarantee the desired tranquility however since it also requires a clear mind.”2 Rousseau considers solitude “a condition where one is present entirely in the moment, thereby achieving an almost mystical unity and harmony with the earth.”3 Emerson thinks solitude is where one knows oneself and is best when alone with nature. Nietzsche believes one must leave society to find the ‘higher self.’ Sartre argues solitude relieves one from the incessant ‘gaze of others.’

There is of course much more, but two key points emerge: (1) loneliness is being one alone with oneself while solitude is being one together with oneself (Nietzsche), and (2) philosophy in solitude is a matter of being together with oneself (‘I am two-in-one’) not the division of oneself (Hannah Arendt). These conditions depend on maturity which Odo Maquard says “is above all the capacity for solitariness.”4 However, Svendsen adds healthy solitude requires a way back to others.

(continued next post)


1Svendsen, Lars, A Philosophy of Loneliness. Reaktion Books, Ltd., London, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78023-747-3.

2Ibid., page 111.

3Ibid., page 118.

4Ibid., page 125.


Last time we saw how Arthur Schopenhauer transformed his pessimistic views of society and the world into a program of contentment through solitude – which distilled down to three main arguments: (1) solitude is a form of simplification; (2) solitude is a sign of self-sufficiency; and (3) solitude is natural. We pick up now with his other observations.

Consider the following: “No man can be in perfect accord with anyone but himself – not even with a friend or the partner of his life; differences of individuality and temperament are always bringing in some degree of discord, though it may be a very slight one. That genuine, profound peace of mind, that perfect tranquility of soul, which next to health, is the highest blessing the earth can give, is attained only in solitude, and, as a permanent mood, only in complete retirement…”8 Despite this last point, he thinks the young should be trained to “bear being left alone…” 9 and learn to take some of their solitude with them into society, that is, to be to some extent alone even when in company.

Schopenhauer admits that solitude is intolerable for persons with “vacuity of soul” or inelastic minds, that is, persons who “possess only a small fraction of humanity in themselves” who thus try to combine with others to make a full person. But the person who is par excellence, is “complete in himself.” He uses the example of the music of an orchestra by many musicians contrasted with the pianist, “a little orchestra in himself.”10 He asserts: “Solitude is doubly advantageous…Firstly, it allows him to be with himself, and secondly, it prevents him from being with others…much constraint, annoyance, and even danger there is in intercourse with the world…almost all our sufferings spring from having to do with other people; and this destroys the peace of mind…”11

Schopenhauer concedes solitude is most appropriate later in life when one has experienced the disagreeable in the world and learned through reflection to recognize one’s true needs. After giving examples of great thinkers of the past such as Voltaire and Petrarch, he concludes: “It is natural for great minds – the true teachers of humanity – to care little about the constant company of others … The mission of these great minds is to guide mankind over the sea of error to the haven of truth – to draw it forth from the dark abysses of a barbarous vulgarity up into the light of culture and refinement.”12

In conclusion we see that Schopenhauer finds solitude is the means to contentment because it involves simplification, demonstrates self-sufficiency, is natural, is a form of perfection, and avoids troublesome interactions. Solitude is critical for tranquility later in life, but must be learned by us in our youth in part by taking some of it with us into the world. In the end, solitude is not only a means to peace, but also to our greatest contemplations.


8Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 26.

9Ibid., page 27.


11Ibid., page 30.

12Ibid., page 33-34.


“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,

And live alone there in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings…”

– William Butler Yeats.

In our continuing voyage we are paused over the place of solitude in contentment having just examined Montaigne’s thoughts. Our next great thinker on this subject is Arthur Schopenhauer, our consummate pessimist-idealist. In his essay, Our Relation to Ourselves, he offers some pointed words starting with: “We are happy as in proportion our range of vision, our sphere of work, our points of contact with the world, are restricted and circumscribed. We are more likely to be more worried and anxious if these limits are wide; for it means that our cares, desires and terrors are increased and intensified. That is why the blind are not so unhappy as we might be inclined to suppose, otherwise there would not be that gentle and almost serene expression of peace in their faces.”1

Solitude for Schopenhauer is a form of simplicity: “Simplicity, therefore as far as it can be attained, and even monotony, in our manner of life, if it does not mean that we are bored, will contribute to happiness; just because, under such circumstances, life, and consequently the burden which is the essential concomitant of life, will be least felt. Our existence will glide on peacefully like a stream which no waves or whirlpools disturb.” 2

He encourages us to follow the rule of Pythagoras to “review, every night, before going to sleep, what we have done during the day,”3 since non-reflective living leads us “to have no clear idea of what we are about; and a man who lives in this state will have chaos in his emotions and certain confusion in his thoughts… A man will be all the more exposed to this fate in proportion as he lives a restless life in the world…”4 He even urges us to preserve our memories and reflections in a journal.

In addition to simplicity, Schopenhauer advocates self-sufficiency. i.e “to be all in all to oneself, to want for nothing…”5 He cautions that “There is no more mistaken path to happiness than worldliness, revelry, high life,: for the whole object of it is to transform our miserable existence into a succession of joys, delights, and pleasures – a process which cannot fail to result in disappointment and delusion…”6

Solitary existence, he asserts, is more natural: “It will be an advantage to him if his surroundings do not interfere with this feeling; for if he has to see a great deal of other people who are not of like character with himself, they will exercise a disturbing influence upon him, adverse to his peace of mind; they will rob him, in fact, of himself and give him nothing to compensate for the loss.”7

(continued next post)


1Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 21.

2Ibid., page 22 (author’s italics).

3Ibid., page 23.


5Ibid., page 24.

6Ibid., (author’s italics).

7Ibid., page 24-25.


Continuing with the thoughts of Montaigne on solitude and contentment, he tells us that after one breaks the knot of obligations, “Let him soothe and caress himself, and above all things be sure to govern himself with reverence to his reason and conscience to that degree as to be ashamed to make a false step in their presence.”5 A somewhat religious man, Montaigne adds, “…my chiefest prayer to Almighty God, that he will please to render me content with myself and the condition wherein I am.”6 Success is specific, “[One] ought to have taken leave of all sorts of labor, what advantage soever it may promise, and generally to have shaken off all those passions which disturb the tranquility of body and soul.”7 But Montaigne does not advocate complete self-denial (at least for himself) noting “Wiser men, having great force and vigor of soul, may propose to themselves a rest wholly spiritual: but for me, who have a very ordinary soul, it is very necessary to support myself with bodily conveniences … and the pleasures of life that our years, one after another, snatch away from us.”8 Presumably this may apply to the reader as well.

He concludes the essay with this:

“Retire yourself into yourself, but first prepare yourself there to receive yourself; it were a folly to trust yourself in your own hands if you cannot govern yourself. A man may miscarry alone as well as in company…present continually to your imagination Cato, Phocion, and Aristides, in whose presence the fools themselves will hide their faults and make them controllers of all your intentions; should these deviate from virtue your respect to those will set you right; they will keep you in the way to be contented with yourself; to borrow nothing of any but yourself; to stay and fix your soul in certain and limited thoughts, wherein she may please herself, and having understood the true and real goods, which men the more enjoy the more they understand, to rest satisfied, without desire of prolongation of life or name.”9

So from Montaigne we extract the following pearls. Solitude separates us from the vice of others, but must include the abolition of the follies of society dwelling in our inner self. It requires personal preparation and is easier with advancing age, though we may never be able to fully withdraw from society. We must care for ourselves and establish self-control in order to eliminate our passions and reduce our responsibilities. Finally solitude facilitates contentment best when we imitate great persons and accept our limitations.


5Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Montaigne. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 25, page 109.

6Ibid., page 110

7Ibid., page 111.

8Ibid., page 111-112

9Ibid., page 112.


“I have at last got the little room I have wanted so long, and am very happy about it. It does me good to be alone…” Louisa May Alcott, Her diary.

Last time we looked at silence and stillness as one channel to contentment; today we assess a close relative, solitude. My plan is to present the perspectives of three thinkers on solitude in chronological order: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Lars Svendsen.

In his essay, Of Solitude, Montaigne offers many benefits of seclusion starting with one’s being free of the vices of others. He believes this seclusion must be comprehensive as private distractions can be as great as public ones. In fact the benefits of solitude come not only from the mere flight from others but the abolishing of the ill effects on one’s inner self originating from exposure to society. “One cannot flee from others if one needs to flee from oneself …Therefore, it is not enough to get remote from the public; ‘tis not enough to shift the soil only; a man must flee from the popular conditions that have taken possession of his soul, he must sequester and come again to himself.”1

Montaigne argues literal seclusion may not even be needed since “our disease lies in the mind, which cannot escape from itself…and therefore is to be called home and confined within itself: that is the true solitude, and that may be enjoyed even in populous cities and the courts of kings, though more commodiously apart.”2 Regardless, for many of us, complete withdrawal may be impossible, “Wives, children, and goods must be had…but we are not so to set our hearts upon them that our happiness must have a dependence upon them; we must reserve a backshop, wholly our own and entirely free, wherein to settle our true liberty, our principle solitude and retreat.”3

Montaigne thinks isolation works best later in life, “Solitude seems to me to wear the best favor, in such as have already employed their most active and flourishing age in the world’s service…we have lived enough for others, let us at least live out the small remnant of our life for ourselves; let us now call in our thoughts and intentions to ourselves, and to our own ease and repose.”4

(continued next post)


1Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Montaigne. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 25, page 108.


3Ibid., page 109.



Last time I examined the place of silence in the quest for contentment noting its three nuances – quiet, attentive listening, and quietude, and I broke off during discussion of this latter point. Continuing now, the Taoists, Laozi and Zhuangzi, are perhaps the greatest proponents of quietude in history. Laozi suggests we observe and learn from the cosmos. Regarding speechlessness, he says, “Nature says few words; hence it is that a squall lasts not a whole morning; a rainstorm continues not a whole day…”2 Likewise Zhuangzi warns us “the more you talk, the further away you get from meaning.”3 and “he who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know,” or consider this esoteric thought, “a perfect argument does not employ words.”4

The Taoists also inform us that we can learn from Nature a second vital lesson, that is, commit to action through inaction, “The heaven and earth do nothing and everything is done.”5 So too we can thrive because “by doing nothing, everything is done.”6 In turn we can see that through inaction that heaven becomes clear and the earth remains at peace. Quietude then is not only about one’s own tranquility, but that of others as well. From these two lessons of Nature the Taoists deduce we can “seek repose in what the human mind cannot know…What the human mind cannot know, it is impossible for words to express.”7 and all benefit from the practice of stillness, “Who is calm and quiet becomes the guide for the universe.”8

Some Western philosophers pick up on the value of silence for tranquility and well-being though less vigorously. For instance Maimonides, the medieval physician, philosopher, and Hebrew scholar, tells us that good character limits one to speech only in matters concerned with wisdom or bodily needs. He quotes: “I have found nothing better for the body than silence,”9 while adding, “silence is a fence around wisdom.”10 Another but later Western example is the philosopher of science, Richard Avenarius (1843-1896), who promotes quieting – the pacification of mind as the initial point of departure and the final endpoint of a pure experience devoid of speculative excesses and assumptions which he proposes as the basis for true science.11

We end with a contemporary, Eckhardt Tolle, who seizes on silence as one ‘portal’ to what he calls the ‘unmanifested.’ He advises we attend to the silence from which sounds emerge. “Paying attention to outer silence creates inner silence; the mind becomes still.”12 With Tolle, silence transcends mere quiet – “even during a conversation, become conscious of the gaps between words, the brief silent intervals between sentences. As you do that, the dimension of stillness grows inside you. You cannot pay attention to silence without simultaneously becoming still within.”13

Silence and stillness are the open highway to peace and contentment, especially when combined with solitude and asceticism. Silence ultimately refers not only to finding a quiet space, but also in listening to the universe and perhaps for the silence between sounds, as well as the suspension of unnecessary action. Next time we will examine the role of solitude in our ongoing climb to contentment.


2Yutang, Lin, The Wisdom of Laotse. The Modern Library, New York, 1976. Page 140

3Ibid., page 313.

4Ibid., page 224.

5Ibid., page 133.

6Ibid., page 229.

7Ibid., page 173.

8Ibid., page 223.

9Weiss, Raymond and Butterworth, Charles (editors), Ethical Writings of Maimonides. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1975. ISBN 0-486-24522-5, page 32.

10Ibid., page 33.

11Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, pages 29-30, and 262.

12Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of Now. Namaste Publishing, Vancouver, B.C., 2004. ISBN 1-57731-480-8, page 136.



“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” –Helen Keller , The Story of My Life.

Having completed the subsections on the lessons of the ancient and later thinkers and of psychology in the seeking of contentment, I move now to some special considerations; first silence, then solitude, and finally asceticism. We start today with silence.

It does not take a philosopher or spiritualist to recognize we live in a very noisy world, not just one of random, nearly inescapable background clatter, but also one teeming with technological distractions such as television, computers, and cell phones. Noise and distractions invade our lives 24 hours per day 365 days per year. The result is overstimulation and a mind seldom at rest while awake. Achieving contentment in a feverish world represents a tremendous hurdle but one which philosophers have addressed.

Silence as the path to contentment has three nuances: (1) quiet, (2) attentive listening, and (3) quietude. The first of these is the most accessible, possible by the mere separation from sounds through changing one’s environment or sound-canceling devices. In the quiet of a remote wood or sound-protected, device-free civilized space we discover a kind of calm that is refreshing and invigorating. We encounter an abrupt peace of mind, but learn this alone is not sufficient for enduring contentment.

Greater tranquility is brought about by a further step – attentive listening to non-human reality. Consider Taoist teaching that we must have quiet to hear the silent universe and its ‘Grand Harmony.’ Anyone who has sat alone on a calm evening spellbound by the Milky Way or looking through a telescope at the silent dance of Jupiter’s moons knows what this means. But we also experience it in the Rocky Mountains watching a herd of rams foraging in the distance and a million other places. While this calm lingers afterwards, it too is fleeting even if revisited frequently.

The greatest means to contentment inverts this phenomenon – the elimination of one’s own stirring and sounds through personal containment, that is, quietude as is achieved by speechlessness, the cessation of itinerant thought, and inaction. Hui Neng tells us such quietism is the means to liberation and enlightenment.:

“A conscious being alone understands what is meant by moving;

To those not endowed with consciousness the moving is unintelligible.

If you exercise yourself in the practice of keeping your mind unmoved,

The immovable you gain is that of one who has no consciousness.

If you are desirous of the truly immovable,

The immovable is in the moving itself,

And this immovable is truly the immovable one.

There is no seed of Buddhahood where there is no consciousness.

Mark how varied are the aspects of the immovable one,

And know that the first reality is immovable.

Only when this reality is attained

Is the true working of suchness understood.”1

(continued next post)


1Huxley, Aldous, The Perennial Philosophy. Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1945.     Page 65.