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Solitude and loneliness: the difference

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 March 2020, 8.50am

I wrote this piece in 2011; different times indeed. But I sense it remains topical.

Lets’s see…

LADY GAGA dug deep into the basket of self-revelation recently. Speaking to Star TV, she spoke of a secret marriage. And I was not best pleased.

It is heightened awareness, I suppose. Now that I have just completed a book called ‘Solitude - recovering the power of alone’ I see the word everywhere. “I am an artist,” said the pop phenomenon. “We wallow in loneliness and solitude our whole lives. . . Yes, I’m lonely. But I’m married to my loneliness.”

After reading that, how do you feel about it? Perhaps you are nodding your head; but I am shaking mine in frustration. Millions hang on her every word, but her words perpetuate a falsehood. Solitude is nothing like loneliness.

“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone,” writes Paul Tillich. “It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”

It is important that we keep them separate, otherwise all hell will break loose; and often does.

Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. When a person is lonely, he or she feels that something is missing. It is not just about being physically alone; it is possible to be with people and still feel lonely — perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.

There is nothing redemptive about this experience. It feels like a punishment; it is perceived as a state of deficiency, provoking discontent and a sense of estrangement from the world.

Solitude is different.

Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely; of being happily alone. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with, and through, oneself; and with God and the world around us. Solitude is something desirable, something to be sought; a state of being alone in the good com­pany of your self.

We must take responsibility for our loneliness. It is not something others do to us, but something we do to ourselves; and it is a call to consider how we relate to the world. We remember the wise words of Rumi: “Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

The world is full of people who seek out other people they do not like, just to stay active and feel involved. There is no finer recipe for loneliness.

Others stuff the spaces in their lives with mental noise from the radio, mobile, or internet; they leave no room for any­thing self-sustaining to grow inside them. Is it any wonder that they find their own company so hard to en­dure?

They are lonely. They need some noise.

Lady Gaga was mistaken. Loneli­ness and solitude are different lands, but their borders touch. We walk from one to the other when we cease using others…

... and start allowing our selves.

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