The Challenge of Solitude
To define a solitary as someone who is not married-to define solitude as the absence of coupling- is like defining silence as the absence of noise. Solitude and silence are positive gestures. This is why Buddhists say that we can learn what we need to know by sitting on a cushion. This is why I say that you can learn what you need to know from the silent, solitary discipline of writing, the discipline of art. This is why I say that solitaries possess the key to saving us from ourselves.
Fenton Johnson, Going It Alone, Harpers Magazine
For nearly five years, the April 2015 issue of Harpers Magazine has been folded open to this article. It’s been sitting on my desk, the top of my bookshelf, or a side table, always open to this page. I pick it up, stare at the highlighted paragraphs and think, “I really should write about this.”
With the quote above it should be clear as to why this article appealed to me and has found a home in my mental space. As an introvert, my social life is constrained to close friends and family. It’s generally been like that most of my life. The past few years, I have found that circle growing smaller, both by choice and circumstance.
It’s coming to the point where my interactions with people beyond work are close to non-existent. I don’t reach out to people like I used to because I feel like social interactions that are initiated by me are more of a nuisance than something that is welcomed. Whether that is because of what I’m saying or whether I don’t have anything of value to share with others, I haven’t quite decided. Regardless of the reason, it is quite easy for me to go a day without hearing a voice or talking except for a short phone call.
I haven’t spent a large amount of time analyzing what’s happening because, like Fenton Johnson, I have made peace with it. I don’t want this to digress into another piece about dating because this feeling is different. It’s not about being frustrated with not having someone, but instead being comfortable being alone. I am finding ways to explore the joy of solitude. 1
A few years ago, I wrote about seeking quiet, which focused on what I was doing to clear my mind when alone. It’s been helpful to be aware of the struggles I’ve had mentally to approach this solitude in positive light. I understand we are meant to be social and find a partner, and I do hope I find one eventually. I would be a fool to say I don’t miss being around someone, talking, touching, etc.
Right now, I am discovering there is a strength in being alone like there is in a partnership. It’s allowing me to catch up on the work and writing I’d like to accomplish. It’s allowed me to focus on my health and working out harder than I have before also. All of these things can be accomplished with a partner in life at your side, but it’s much easier to put more energy towards them when alone.
Being alone is a challenge. Being alone and quiet is more of a challenge. Coming face-to-face with your mental thoughts is both frightening and exciting- who knows what may bubble up. It is a time of acceptance of who you are, what needs to be improved upon, and what needs to be avoided. Being alone has been a big part of the process in deciding what the aim of this year should be for me. A year of frictionless.
I can be happy for the other couples walking around this Valentine’s Day and enjoying themselves, and be content for myself being alone at the same time. Maybe this time next year, I will have someone in my life. And if not, that is okay by me.
A purely mental life may be destructive if it leads us to substitute thought for life and ideas for actions. The activity proper to man is not purely mental because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude
- Quick aside to mention this solitude I write about is only half the time, because the weeks with Kylie are rarely quiet – which is a welcomed shift. ↩