Willful Solitude

Most of the time I am alone and do not mind it. The silence, sweeter than any music, the sense of security, the low risk of anything out of the ordinary happening, the domestic comfort, I enjoy all of these, and often they help me attain a serenity that is so much different from the feeling of being distracted, scattered, out-of-focus that often overwhelms me when I am around people.

More than one hundred years ago, in a short story titled Who Knows?, Guy de Maupassant wrote the following observation about human nature which I think still holds true:

We are, on earth, two distinct races. Those who have need of others, whom others amuse, engage, soothe, whom solitude harasses, pains, stupefies, like the movement of a terrible glacier or the traversing of the desert; and those, on the contrary, whom others weary, tire, bore, silently torture, whom isolation calms and bathes in the repose of independency, and plunges into the humors of their own thoughts. In fine, there is here a normal, physical phenomenon. Some are constituted to live a life outside of themselves, others, to live a life within themselves.

I am one of those who ‘live a life within themselves’, preferring the comforts of my inner privacy to external pursuits.

For years after dropping out of school I had lived isolated – it was a psychological kind of isolation, inextricably linked to depression. To some extent that isolation still lingers, but I dare say I have understood that without contact with other people, you end up like a pearl on the deep bottom, alone in your shell, wondering where is the ocean.

Willful solitude fosters a sense of independence and, if you are dedicated to the pursuit of a craft or to some other goal that requires your focus and attention, it can be a favorable, even encouraging state. Solitude can foster an inner development that is deeper and more meaningful than the shallow outer development of materialism.

But solitude, like all things in life, needs to be contrasted to make sense, else it becomes a fathomless abyss in which we free-fall almost endlessly. Today it is easier than ever to be solitary. Social media, smartphones, and all the other means of communication we have can make us withdrawn and lonely while giving us the impression that we are always connected. But it’s a meaningless sort of connection

We must remember that we are not alone in the world, that we are all interconnected, that ultimately no one is self-sufficient but depends on others in some way. Even us, willfully solitary people, need others. That’s because although we can see the world from our windows, we cannot see ourselves. We do have mirrors, but they are only skin-deep. We need to see our reflection in another person’s eyes to find out who we are.

Do you spend much time alone with yourself? Does solitude bother you?

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43 thoughts on “Willful Solitude

  1. I love the idea of solitude and remember how amazing it was, even though I did not appreciate it. I yearn for it and when I do get the brief chance to experience it I am lost because I no longer recognize myself when someone else is not there. If I am not someone’s wife, mommy or coworker I have no identity. My goal this year, one of them, is to find that person again, and hopefully I will still like her.

  2. I am also, one of those who live their lives within themselves. I love being on my own a lot of times, yet I need others to be around me from time to time, like you wrote it so well. Great post, I love it!

  3. I crave my alone time, guard it like a precious stone. I am never one of those people who get bored on their own – that is such an odd concept to me. Fab post.

  4. Alone time is the one that I can manage with least harm. It’s free of charges, expectations and judgements. For me, it’s also a time without misunderstandings, as the comunnication is my everyday struggle. I can’t even imagine my existance without being alone sometimes. But I also know that this is the time when this existance will stop bothering me. I’m usually alone and here I need no other perspective. Can people really reflect the true ourselves? Even if they don’t really understand us?

      1. It’s changing all the time, that’s for sure. And what I’ve learned thanks to others is maybe that I prefer staying within myself rather than stepping outside. So far. I hope that one day I’ll find more of this balance that you’ve mentioned. 🙂

  5. I love alone time. As an introvert, solitude is the greatest possible gift I could receive. Even “solitude” with my husband and son… I simply love it. It gives me time to submerge and completely drown in my thoughts and ideas. It’s a wonderful feeling. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this beautifully written post.

  6. Another very well written post. There are times I crave the solitude I have most of the time and times when I need the company of others albeit rare. Because the need for solitude is often a sign of depression I have visits at least twice a week to ensure my wellbeing, that’s about the limit of my tolerance though I’m never rude if it’s greater, I’m afraid I just become quieter and retreat further into myself.
    Oddly enough I don’t mind the companionship of the net.

  7. In answer to your question, not at all. The creative mind works best in silence, and I grieve for those who need some outer stimulus to release their soul. People drown out my thoughts as readily as I stultify theirs, and I have long accepted that I do best for mankind by retreating to my inner life. I, too, find comfort there. The expectations of others bore me, condemning me to my selfish existence. Selfish shellfish. My room is my carapace.

    1. I sometimes wonder whether I indeed ‘do best for mankind by retreating to my inner life’ and question the practical value of my lifestyle and profession. I ask myself, ‘Why don’t you become a doctor to alleviate suffering?’ That’s easier said than done, of course. It’s comforting to think that one can stop getting in the way and be more useful by retreating from the world, rather than by going out there.

  8. I struggled for years against the feeling that interaction was too much effort, and yet ever since I left the country I grew up in, I have yearned for a friendship as close as the ones I left behind. I love solitude. However I agree that it needs to be contrasted. Too much of it causes sadness and irritability. I am my best person when I am alone, I create better things, I am more focused and I produce work that is beyond expectation. And yet in order to fuel that creativity I need some hours spent around people.

      1. Well frankly since I have moved out to the country I spend no hours per day around other humans. The only time I get to see people is on the weekend and it is eating slightly into my soul.

  9. Really well said. I certainly like having my solitude – to read, paint, write and just do things I want without being watched or judged. But I, of course, love the company on my friends. I say that, because I enjoy a good amount I solitary time, it makes me appreciate and value the time I spend with friends and family. I prefer my ratios that way round – slightly heavier on the solitary side 🙂

  10. Very well said. Thank you for this. I re-energize when I spend time alone, and tend to prefer time alone, but too much time alone within my own head, and I realize I need some real connection.

  11. Wow. This is beautifully written and I deeply appreciate this post. You wrote how social media gives us the impression that we are all connected. However, even though we are “connected,” we’re alone.

    As an extraverted person, I would rather be around people than alone. Though, sometimes I savor the solitude. I think it’s important that people give themselves that privacy because we can find so much about ourselves.

  12. I spend most of my time alone, too. I prefer solitude to the company of others, and even when I am with others, I often feel alone. I think it is the nature of our breed — yours and mine. But you’re right: even alone, we do need others. And I think that’s why we write. Through our blogs, and through the sharing of our thoughts, we can connect. We can love. We can care.

  13. I love people. But I also like solitude and silence at times. I love music but often when I am on my own I shut off the TV and radio. Open the windows or doors and listen to nature. It has a calming influence! Nice writing. Keep it up.

  14. I enjoy being alone with my thoughts and my books. Although I am a relationship person, I still embrace the time where I can sit alone in my home and just listen to the sounds of the world. I’ve caught myself often saying “I hate people” (usually at work or when another horrible thing in the world happens) and think about just moving alone in the woods and living in a life of solitude. However, it is a fleeting thought and I know it isn’t realistic.
    I love your post!

  15. I don’t spend much time alone but I am always by myself….I spend most of my time in my head even though I have people around me. They truly just bore me and I always look for excuses to be by myself, to avoid any human interaction whatsoever ! Some say its sad but I love it !

  16. Reblogged this on [Beanie] and commented:
    We must remember that we are not alone in the world, that we are all interconnected, that ultimately no one is self-sufficient but depends on others in some way. Even us, willfully solitary people, need others. That’s because although we can see the world from our windows, we cannot see ourselves. We do have mirrors, but they are only skin-deep. We need to see our reflection in another person’s eyes to find out who we are.

  17. I like solitude.But it becomes a problem if you can’t get away with it. Sometimes it gets lonely. But I like my space . As you can see, this is probably a never ending circle.

  18. I love your article I’m like you if i can say, my loneliness caused me a lot of problems in my life, but loneliness is part of a strong personality and not all the people can be solitaire, solitude not bother me, i enjoy to be with myself 🙂

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