We’ve all heard and read that phrase: No man is an island.
And we’ve all seen rants and angst about it: people bemoaning staying at the office on weekends, being left alone in the house, traveling solo, going to a party or event without a buddy, or watching a movie by one’s self. We like being independent, but we sure hate being alone.
Admittedly, a lot of our daily activities (and inactivities) are more pleasurable when there are other people to share it with you. Enzo, a youth in our church who loves playing video games, even sheepishly admits that he prefers playing a multiplayer game along with his siblings than holing up alone on a laptop. And the same goes with other youth: what hooks them deeper into LAN games aren’t just the thrill of the game itself — it’s more of the opportunity to bond together in something everyone can enjoy together. Being together makes everything seem more fun. More memorable.
When my ex-girlfriend broke up with me years ago, I felt lost. I forgot how it felt to eat alone, to watch movies alone. And even though we didn’t play video games together, I even lost the pleasure of just sitting back and challenge myself through levels of puzzles and digital enemies. I wanted to be with someone, anyone. But even when I tried hanging out with friends, it felt empty. They felt lacking, insufficient. I always went home sadder, more depressed, more alone.
But I used to love being alone. What happened?
I realized that in those years of relationship, I got so used to trying to please someone else — and wanting to be pleased by someone else. I’ve grown to become too demanding of others, too dependent on others for emotional support, too attached. I forgot what it means and how to be my own self.
I forgot how to enjoy solitude.
But should solitude be enjoyed at all?
Most people think of solitude as something dreary. But we need to realize that there is, in fact, a difference between being solitary and being lonely. I like how one site (I lost the link, sorry) distinguishes between the two:
A distinction has been made between solitude and loneliness. In this sense, these two words refer, respectively, to the joy and pain of being alone.
We can then identify solitude as a positive be attitude! As such, solitude can be a state or situation in which you are alone because you want to be. And that’s not a bad thing. We choose to be alone. Being lonely is an emotion, but being alone can be an attitude. As another site expounds:
Solitude is the state of being alone. You might crave solitude after spending the holidays with your big, loud family — you want nothing more than to get away from everyone for a little while.
Solitude can also refer to a place where you’re completely alone. The middle of the woods, the top of a big mountain, the middle of a vast desert, even your room — these are places where you might go for solitude. Solitude comes from the Latin word solitudinem, which means “loneliness,” but if you have moments of solitude that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely. The word solitude carries the sense that you’re enjoying being alone by choice.
While I was browsing through the net for this topic, I stumbled across this interesting article. And a particular line captured my exact thoughts: “You don’t need to be a monk to find solitude, nor do you need to be a hermit to enjoy it.” And it offers a lot of interesting points to think about.
We need other people to live — but we also need to leave, at least temporarily. Sure, we can find strength through others. But it is only when we’re alone that we can develop and cultivate that strength that we receive from others to make it our own. A lot of great people are notable for their moments of solitude.
One of my favorite poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley, says: “A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.” I personally find it sweetest to write when I am alone — and though I may start writing with a darkened heart and mind, it is through solitude that I find the strength to dispel my own gloom. Other notable quotes on solitude are:
“I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” — Albert Einstein
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinions; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.” — Henry David Thoreau
“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
“The whole value of solitude depends upon one’s self; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.” — John Lubbock
“Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.” — Paul Brunton
Even Jesus Christ Himself has been recorded to intentionally spend time away from everyone. It’s not because He got tired or annoyed with his disciples’ company. It was because He wanted to affirm His own purpose. Yes, He was God — yet being in human flesh, He needed to continuously seek His Father and be reminded of His task and destiny. It gave Him direction. It gave Him spiritual strength to face the challenges that beset Him. And it provided Him the fortitude that He needed at the time when everyone else abandoned Him at the cross. He was prepared to die alone — and He accepted His fate with faith in His Father.
We need to find our own niches of solitude; however, we should be careful not to dwell in them. As Josh Billings states, “Solitude: A good place to visit, but a poor place to stay.” We are not meant to live a solitary life. But to fully enjoy companionship, we need to value and appreciate our own time alone.
Now, another interesting be attitude that is somehow related to solitude is the word quietude.
Quietude is the state or condition of being quiet, peaceful, calm or tranquil. It is an attitude wherein we can remain at rest even when we are surrounded by tension, worry, or problems. It is an attitude that defies the urgent and rejects agitation. One can say it is the highest form of fortitude, a serenely mature acceptance of vicissitude. Quietude is possible when we have learnt to express gratitude despite all the injustice, guided and guarded by rectitude and correctitude, and not easily swayed due to certitude.
While there are times where it might be impossible to practice physical solitude — we can always glow with quietude in our darkest moments. And sometimes, a soft glow is all that’s needed to attract fellow lonely souls — and at that wonderful opportunity, we know that we can never be truly alone.
• • •
Want to know more about the be attitudes? Stay updated on the series:
#0 — Introduction
#1 — Gratitude
#3 — Certitude
#4 — Solicitude
#5 — Promptitude
#6 — Fortitude
#7 — Vicissitude
#8 — Quietude & Solitude