All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. -Blaise Pascal
Solitude is not a subject of interest to me, it is a way of living. How does one properly articulate how they see the world, how they chose to see the world, or how they must see the world. A few well-spoken or written words simply does not cut it.
I write for two reasons. Primarily I find it a creative challenge. I will be the first to admit my writing can improve in nearly all areas. I simply try to write as I would talk to someone, possibly with slightly better syntax. Secondly, seeing one’s own words before them is somehow different than simply talking to yourself. It is reflective, possibly opening a more insightful self-dialogue.
Breadth & Depth
As a boy I was shy, at least that’s what everyone said. Although I didn’t feel shy, so it was always kind of confusing to me. I am “this way” because everyone says I am, but I don’t feel “that way”. In reality, I didn’t even know what “that way” was.
The confusion didn’t really help matters. The more I heard people say, “Oh Brad’s just shy”, the more I slowly withdrew from most social interaction. This lead to more time by myself which led to more opportunities to be by myself. There seem to be many of these catch 22 scenarios in life. Most adults can not escape them, let alone a kid.
Throughout my teenage years, I knew I wasn’t as social as most of my friends or most others I knew for that matter. It wasn’t until many years later that I became much more interested in understanding myself. Not in any self-absorbed way, but in a, I want to understand who I am way. What is this thing called living all about? What I discovered was life changing. Not life changing in a way that sounds dramatic when I write those words. I mean it literally changed my life.
I discovered, with much help, (and lots of reading of philosophy, psychology, and a come to Jesus meeting with Bill W) that I was not shy, not in the least. I have never been shy. Everybody throughout most of my life has been wrong about me. In almost total astonishment I discovered I simply was an introvert. (If you have a preconceived notion about what an introvert is, I would encourage you to click that link and listen to Susan Cain). It was like the sky opened up and the almighty turned my lump of coal into a diamond. And this happened in the blink of an eye.
As one who generally favors solitude over company, I generally distance myself rather than engage with them. I do this not because I feel intimidated by others, or don’t like others, the distancing of myself, in my way of thinking, is the respectful thing to do. You know the whole do unto others as you would have them do unto you thing.
I have been accused of not being social, or not liking others more times than I can possibly imagine. I never attempt to debate such things. If someone accuses me of not liking them, simply because I chose to be by myself instead of around them, then they simply could not understand my rational even if I were to give it. Because of this, I believe I have grown somewhat thick skinned. Which I don’t consider that a bad thing.
Solitude restores body and mind. Loneliness depletes them.
The type of photography I chose to do generally takes me away from others and deep into nature. When I have thought about this I wonder. Do I do this kind of photography because of an introverted personality, or does my introverted personality make me do this kind of photography? I guess there is not much difference.
There are things you feel when alone in nature that is not possible in the company of others. Emotions seem more sensitive. Thoughts are more clear. There are no distraction, unwelcomed noises, or confusions about why you are there.
I believe solitude is a vital part of living a happy life and this is true for everyone. I do realize that some simply need more than others. Some of us need much much more. It is important to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness. I know from personal experience the difference is tremendous.
Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others.
After the end of an 18-year marriage, I suffered through a period of 5 years desperately missing my children even though I lived only one block away and spent time with them regularly. For most of this time, I simply could not be alone. Yet for most of it, I was. I knew this and many many times sought out the company of others, even if they were total strangers, which most were. I would simply go to public places and set and allow myself to be surrounded by other human beings. It was all I could do.
Loneliness is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It was the most frightening time of my life. It almost made no difference if I was surrounded by others, I still felt completely alone. Slowly, with time the depression eased and I found myself with a lifetime of questions. Most with answers that made me face all my fallacies head on. It sucked, like really really sucked.
I may be digressing a bit too far down a personal road, but these are important aspects of a larger picture. A picture of purpose, desire, and strength. Solitude in conjunction with an understanding and acceptance of oneself provides all these things. It strengthens all these things. It is how I have allowed my past to provide strength that allows me to better the future. You really don’t learn much when you are on top of the World, but you learn nearly everything when you are at the bottom of it.
We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from outside our control.
Power of solitude
I find it rather ironic that I can sit here and write these things, some personal, most I would never randomly share with others, and most known by very few others. Yet I am writing them down here as if I can easily talk about them. Keep in mind, I am not talking about them. I am in the comfort of my own home and completely by myself. That may just be the ultimate proof of the power of solitude. I not only find solitude an essential part of who I am, I find it a fascinating field of personal study. It is something that I simply connect with.
I don’t want to seem like I am ending this post abruptly, but I don’t want this to turn in to me just rambling on about stuff either. If you are interested in additional reading on the subject of solitude here are a couple of articles I found interesting.
Solitude vs. Loneliness: Being Alone in Our Connected World.
The Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness
Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god. -Aristotle
All of this rings true to me. I’m very comfortable with my own company and rarely feel lonely when alone.
I have always felt being comfortable with oneself is akin to greatness. It’s good to hear you have such qualities, Joseph. I appreciate the comment.
Well written, and true for me, as well. If you’re looking for another “justification of philosophy,” I think that the best argument for it was made by Bertrand Russell titled, “The Value of Philosophy.” (You can get pretty much all his writings in eBooks today for pennies). In my copy of the book, I highlighted about half of it :) Here’s a sample:
“The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartiality of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same freedom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insistence that results from seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world of which all the rest is unaffected by any one man’s deeds. The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admirable. Thus contemplation enlarges not only the objects of our thoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makes us citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizenship of the universe consists man’s true freedom, and his liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears.
Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”
I did have to read the sample from Bertrand Russell’s writing a few times to get a grasp of things. I even chuckled a couple times thinking, is he messing with me, ha.
From personal experience, I have no doubt philosophic contemplation does constitute the highest levels of critical thinking. Providing not only a deeper understanding or possibly more involving questions, but personal insight to which I believe necessary for spiritual resolve. At least it seems to have such an effect on me. I really try to not get overly critical on a personal level, though, I struggle every single day with such things.
I appreciate your advice on Bertrand Russell. I have only read short passages of his works. In reading just the first paragraph of, The Problems of Philosophy, I believe I will add some of his work to my library as well.
I appreciate the comment and input Guy.