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 Social media, smartphones, and all the other means of communication we have can make us withdrawn and lonely while giving us the impression that we are always connected.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.