Solitary refinement

October 25th, 2012

I spent Fall Break alone.

That’s a sad-sounding sentence, isn’t it? It may be sad-sounding, but I promise it’s not all that sad. I discovered something about myself that weekend: I really like being alone … which is another sad-sounding kind of sentence.

I was worried that I would go absolutely mad if I spent too much time with myself. You know, you have no one to talk to, and so you get inside your own head, and then you realize that you are talking to yourself, or your computer, or your ficus plant. Yep, I was pretty much convinced that was going to happen to me.

Good news! It didn’t. I actually really liked being on my own for a weekend. I got to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and, although I love my roommates, it was nice to not have to talk to anyone when I got up in the morning.

I think that the majority of us are a little afraid to spend time by ourselves. We’re scared of boredom. There has to be something to do all the time, or we start chomping at the bit, biting our nails and gnashing our teeth. Sometimes, though, it feels really good to just not do anything. I like to lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling. Maybe that’s weird. I see it more as a form of strange meditation. I’ve had some pretty great epiphanies while staring at the ceiling.

I was only in contact with a few people over Fall Break. To the rest of the world, I might as well have been dead. I don’t see anything wrong with that. What’s the matter with disappearing off the face of the earth for a while? Turn off your phone; listen to good music; read a good book; watch good films.

Author Franz Kafka said there is a certain “happiness of being with people,” and there most definitely is; but there is also a certain happiness that lies in solitude.

Sadly, in this day and age, solitude doesn’t often come naturally. Often we have to seek it out, strive to achieve solitude.

It is important to remember that being alone doesn’t necessarily equate to being lonely. As a matter of fact, there is a big difference. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company.” You can be lonely when you are in the middle of a huge crowd of people. Being alone in solitude should have an air of peacefulness, or if not peacefulness, at least of some sort of rejuvenation.

Being an English literature major, it’s hard for me not do drag some authors into this. Writers (and other artists) have long been known for seeking solitude, because it’s hard to write without it. Believe me, I know. American poet Charles Bukowski (if you’ve never read him, read him. I recommend a recent poem called “9 bad boys”) described himself as “a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.”

Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New Word,” observed that, “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.” Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t seek solitude you don’t have a powerful or original mind. I’m sure you have a very powerful and original mind; but think of it this way – if you have a powerful and original mind in the midst of the masses, think of how much more powerful and original it would be if you withdrew and “went alone to the mountaintop,” so to speak. Yeah, you’d probably start thinking some pretty ingenious things.

I seek solitude because sometimes, like Milton said, “Solitude is the best society.” I find that I can’t constantly be around other people with noise and distraction and everybody always needing to know where I’m going and what I’m doing; it makes my head spin. I like people, but I can’t always be around them.

Henry David Thoreau was probably the master of solitude (although arguments have been made to the contrary). I mean, come on, the guy went and lived by himself in a cabin in the woods on Walden Pond. Thoreau felt that he had “never found a companion that is so companionable as solitude.”

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. You don’t have to be a great thinker to value and seek solitude. We should all strive for a little solitude from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Read, write, meditate. Take time to quiet your mind and listen to your soul. You’ll realize it has a lot to say.