How many people experience true solitude in this modern age? Not just being alone, but the rich experience of true separation from the world with its multitude of voices and constant activity. In our media-drenched culture it is becoming ever more difficult to be completely alone when we are constantly ‘plugged in’ to the world at large through social media, 24 hour news and entertainment.
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
Henry David Thoreau (from ‘Walden’)
While there are advantages to having access to this level of communication and information the downside is that we are in danger of never having any time alone with our own thoughts. How many of us are spending regular time alone physically yet never experience the benefits of true solitude?
We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
C.S. Lewis (from ‘The Weight of Glory’)
We fear we will miss something if we ‘unplug’ and take a day off from checking emails, social media, news etc. But the world will not stop; the information will still be there the next day (and how much of it do we really benefit from knowing anyway?). I’m sure that most of us are now aware of the many studies that show the detrimental effect that constant ‘input’ can have on our wellbeing and long-term health, yet still we struggle to disconnect.
For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others…and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.
Virginia Woolf (from ‘To the Lighthouse’)
I greatly enjoy my own company and prefer to work alone, yet I find that engagement with social media and the option to ‘check in’ with the outside world regularly pervades my day. Far too often the ever-present virtual world becomes a drain on my attention and energy rather than the positive connection with others and the source of important information that I intend. Diverted, my attention flits from one thing to another like a flower-hopping bee seeking nectar, and my work (and the overall quality of my day) suffers as a result.
In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.
And so I find myself craving the emotional and mental separation of true solitude. To silence the many voices and take the time to go deep in thought so that my work might spring from a deeper well. For surely the constant processing of superficial information makes finding true insight almost impossible? We can be ever learning but never truly understanding.
It is a frightful satire and an epigram on the modern age that the only use it knows for solitude is to make it a punishment, a jail sentence.
In recent weeks I have been spending less time in the virtual world, although this has not really been by design. Rather the struggle to unplug mentally during the daily periods when I unplug physically have been grating ever more intensely and as a result my reluctance to reconnect has steadily grown. However, my work as an artist has always been the basis of my online presence and I now find myself wondering how to engage online in a way that is beneficial without being detrimental to the need for regular and true solitude.
But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.
Rainer Maria Rilke (from ‘Letters to a young poet’)
I suppose that what I really seek is the silence of solitude, especially during my working day. Not a complete absence of sound, for what a miserable world it would be without birdsong and nature’s many other melodies. Rather an absence of noise – the intrusive babble of the world at large which often feels ever-present and disturbs the inner quiet of the soul. I have found that this kind of solitude only benefits the time I have with others, enriching conversation and companionship with my husband, family and friends. Out of solitude what I am able to bring to relationships is truly myself, undivided and undistracted.
So I continue to seek and ponder how to best pursue solitude in my life. For as Albert Camus so wisely advised, “Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.”
About the Artwork…
This little ink drawing of a solitary hare was created on some card that I soaked in tea leaves and coffee grinds then warmed in the oven to create a kind of medieval aged scroll effect. I had some cards left with the old The Honeybee and the Hare website info on them and (because I hate waste!) I decided to experiment. I made a batch of these stained cards so I expect I’ll soon be creating some more tea stained ink doodles…