‘Man cannot long survive without air, water and sleep. Next in importance comes food. And close on its heels, solitude.’ Thomas Szasz
Lady Gaga, never knowingly under-exposed, dug deep into the basket of self-revelation when speaking to Star TV. ‘I am an artist,’ she said. ‘We wallow in loneliness and solitude our whole lives… Yes, I’m lonely. But I’m married to my loneliness.’
How are you feeling about that?
Perhaps you’re nodding your head in empathic agreement… but I’m weeping into my soup. 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’s important we keep them separate, otherwise all hell will break loose.
Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation.
When a person is lonely, they feel that something is missing. It’s not just being physically alone; we may be with people and still feel lonely and there’s nothing redemptive about the experience.
It feels harsh, like a punishment; we perceive it as a state of deficiency provoking self-pity, discontent and estrangement in 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 oneself, and through oneself, with God and the world around. Solitude is something desirable, something to be sought; a state of being alone in the good company of your self.
This brings us seamlessly to my book, ‘Solitude – Recovering the power of the alone’. It’s written to restore the lost art of solitude to our lives.
The book is a quiet revolution as all the best revolutions are – no guillotines or hysterical claims of instant heaven.
But defining solitude as ‘the active path towards inner silence’, and using only dialogue, it leads us to the life beneath our life and charts the inner movements from loneliness to solitude.
It is here we exchange confusion for identity, busy for still, fear for discovery, urgent for important, machine for human and separation for union.
I started writing the book while on holiday beneath a large mountain and a scorching sun. I continued writing it to the sound of breaking glass, violence and burning buildings in my Tottenham neighbourhood of North London during a week of looting and fear in England over the summer.
But wherever I was writing, nothing felt more topical than our need to re-learn the lost art of solitude.
‘All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone,’ observed Blaise Pascal in the 17th century. It’s an unfashionable diagnosis – but it has never felt more true.
So why do we find it so hard? Partly our education. As parents fill the lives of their children with activity and external stimulation, it creates a half-developed adult.
When this is all you know and all you long for, then silence – the silence we enjoyed in the womb – becomes a fearful thing.
For some, activity appears the only possibility; with the sense that something dark and dangerous lies in the silence. They simply cannot stop.
Untutored in stillness, we have unwittingly been trained for loneliness and distraction and we now pass this condition onto the next generation.
It needn’t be so. Solitude could become a delight, a friend and a revelation once again, both for our selves and for our children. Solitude brings kindness and awareness in its wake
If you have lost your way, sense panic or feel in need of help, my book of 53 short chapters is a good friend, I hope so. It helps you through the foliage of distraction and fear and eases you kindly onto the path where the adventure becomes yours.
And so we recover the power of alone.
‘Solitude – Recovering the power of alone’ is published by White Crow.