When we think of solitude, all too often we see it as a difficulty to overcome. In our efforts to transcend what is an inevitable aspect of life, we may transform solitude into a state of loneliness and need. However, solitude, when embraced, can provide us with a sense of wholeness as deep and as rich as any companionship we might imagine. Yet, when we refuse solitude, we are suddenly lonely. For through resisting what is natural, we bring about a state that is unnatural. Loneliness always exists in a framework of neediness, and, as long as we believe that we are lacking, our need will be real.
In solitude, the need to fill the emptiness in ourselves does not exist. We have made a choice to be alone, but we are not lonely. Whereas those who are lonely feel the need for completion, solitude is a state in which we are already complete. By nature, man is accustomed to self-sustenance. It is society that manipulates us into imagining that we cannot be alone and be content. We are told that we must be social creatures—that we must have daily plans and activities where we are around other people. And although it is important to interact with others, unless we know how to interact with ourselves all of our other interactions will be unproductive.
We cannot understand others unless we first understand ourselves. But how can we understand a person with whom we spend little or no time? Is it any wonder that what we call our beliefs and opinions are actually recycled data? How can we have any original thoughts of our own when the clamor of the world is drowning out our voice? Oftentimes, we truly think that we agree with the ideas that we borrow from those around us because we haven’t taken any time to sort through our own thoughts. In our desire for certainty and instantaneous knowledge, we bypass the avenue that will afford us with the most insight and understanding–ourselves.
Anne Sexton once said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” What she neglected to mention is that, if one does not listen in an atmosphere of solitude, one may mistake the voice of someone else’s soul for one’s own. But in order to achieve solitude, one has to be willing to risk losing the favor of others. The world will always have distractions, novelties, and activities to lure us away from our solitude. Thus, we may be forced to choose between popularity and self-examination. And if we wish to become a copy of everyone else instead of ourselves, we will choose popularity. For nothing affords us with a better opportunity to become a conformist than never taking time to be alone.
In solitude, we are able to recognize our gifts and capabilities for we are not comparing ourselves with those whom we perceive to be more talented or capable than we are. The soul strengthens itself in solitude, and, when the danger of loneliness looms before it, it does not fall under its spell. It recognizes that loneliness is yet another distraction that will obscure its vision. We think of loneliness as being empty, but actually it contains fullness of its own. This is why as long as it has invaded our lives, we will have no room for that which will truly make us whole.
We will be both incapable of enjoying the merits of solitude and unable to build relationships of meaning and value. In a place of need, which is where loneliness resides, the ability to comprehend what one wants or desires does not exist. When we are lonely, we deceive ourselves because we are desperate to find some means of removing our loneliness. We want a savior to add substance to our lives. We want someone else to give us a reason to hope, to not give up. What we do not realize is that until we find hope and a sense of purpose in our solitude, we will never cease to be lonely.
Eugene O’Neill once said that man fears loneliness because he fears life. We fear that which we do not understand. To no longer be afraid of life we must understand it, and this is why solitude must cease to be looked upon as something to avoid. Solitude is necessary for us to live fully. It is far less important rather that we read that which others have written than it is that we take the time to be alone with our own thoughts and ideas. We cannot relentlessly absorb knowledge and information without processing it and sorting through it.
We must give ourselves the chance to form new thoughts and to figure out what we want from life, instead of being so busy in the hassle of existence that we let those around us dictate our beliefs and choices for us. Otherwise, even though we possess our freedom, we will remain prisoners of ourselves and our own need to escape from who we really are within. In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, “The necessary thing is after all but this; solitude, great inner solitude. Going into oneself for hours meeting no one–this one must be able to attain.”
Peace, Love, and Joy.
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