In our language we have two words,
Solitude and Loneliness.
Solitude is being alone
Without thinking about being alone.
While Loneliness is being alone
And being aware you’re alone.
When I read those words in a small book from 1981 called “Meet Me Halfway” by Javan I was struck pointedly about the difference between solitude and loneliness. The two had always been associated together as essentially the same thing in my thoughts. The epiphany of the moment is the greatest block to being able to find solitude is loneliness itself. Having spent the majority of my life feeling a lack and being lonely for someone or something I could not put my finger on, it now comes as no surprise that solitude was always out of my reach.
Psychology Today had this to say about the two states: Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. It is possible to be with people and still feel lonely—perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.
Loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.
Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.
Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate.
Coming to understand the different between loneliness and solitude I can grasp better a comment by one of my heroes, Henry David Thoreau. He wrote 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. Previously I always thought that statement was in the realm of being anti-social. I get it now!
Before I am misunderstood, its important to note how much I enjoy being with close friends and a few members of my family. Often while with them in the past I still felt great loneliness. Why? I was a stranger to myself. Wishing my childhood had been different and running away from mistakes as an adult, I had never gotten to know myself. And that is the most lonely state a person can know. We are always with our self and to be disconnected from self is the greatest loneliness possible.
I have lived alone now ten of the last fifteen years and for a good part of that time my loneliness was so acute I actually ached, but for exactly what I did not know. I thought it was a partner; a lover; some angel to come save me and make everything okay. No one fitting that description came that I noticed. However, the person to do the saving was around the whole time: ME! I am deeply grateful for the self discovery, an awakening, that came to me in the last five years.
In this age of ultra-connectedness it’s challenging to find solitude. Sometime I have to step away from email, Facebook, texts, and a phone that’s always on. When I first tried to do that it was harder to shut it all off than I would have thought. Now I can do it for a half day, a day and even for a weekend sometimes. It is an ability acquired only through difficulty which in turn brought clarity.
Today I enjoy my solitude. I relish the times when it is me alone in my home and all is quiet except the occasion creak of the house or the soft hum of a car going by outside. It’s then my thoughts are clearer, my meditations more peaceful, my reading better comprehended and my mind, body and soul seem to connect at a higher level.
The best art, the best writing, the best discoveries are often created in solitude, for good reason: it’s only when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, soul. To even comprehend a portion of the magnitude of that statement brings earnest gratitude into my heart.
The greatest thing in the world
is to know how to belong to oneself.
Michel de Montaigne