The charms of solitude

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Tuesday 1 Feb 2022


The very idea of a Covid-19 lockdown brings shivers down the spine.

At present, South Africa is experiencing a fierce attack of the pandemic, and the number of lockdowns is unparalleled. The lockdown effect has a significant negative impact, reminiscent of the leprosy of long ago. It surpasses other restrictions because of its immediate transmittable contagion.

The idea of obligatory isolation from society is despicable and dreaded by all humans.

There are, however, many hidden advantages that would benefit all to seek rather than reject it.

A Covid-19 lockdown is not the ideal choice for some solitude, but even then it can be beneficial, if well managed.

The greatest benefit of solitude is that it gives you a chance to discover “you”. How many of us walk through life’s journey without ever grasping the essence of our inner self?

Solitude grants us this opportunity. It helps us discover ourselves, learn more about our ideas and ideals away from the distractions of our daily routine.

Being alone is blissful, rapturous, and divine.

Modern society would categorically disagree. Spending a weekend alone, how shameful. Something is wrong with you. Why, that is how you punish a misbehaved child, “off to your room,” alone. Silence and darkness, the sole companions. Humans have been wired to believe solitude is an enemy. Even in prison, “solitary confinement” is the cruelest infliction.

Humans have long stigmatised solitude, without realising that it affords your brain to think outside the box and to come up often with extraordinary creations and inventions. They are social creatures and socialising comes easy. Solitude runs counter to the demands of society.

Being alone and being lonely are two entirely different emotions. How often have you felt lonely in the midst of a crowd? Loneliness is about perceiving that no one is there for you. Happiness can be found in solitude.

Taking time for yourself is often viewed as selfish and unproductive. Sorry, society, we beg to differ. Making a conscious choice to be alone for emotional reasons is desirable for body and mind.

Undoubtedly you have heard of silent retreats. Why are they pursued by the faithful and religious individuals who need to concentrate on spiritual matters, away from the chatter and blather of the superficial world that surrounds them? They prefer to chat with their own minds.

In solitude, all you hear is your own voice. You are empowered, comfortable and confident. This is the time of self-discovery, invention, meditation, creation, and education. The adventure begins. The quiet introspective “alone” time — away from office, kitchen, gym, or cocktail parties.

Solitude allows our minds to rest for a change, detached from the busy, noisy, disturbing environment it encounters constantly.

Science, however, has not looked with favour on solitude. Freud linked it with anxiety. “The first punishment related to situations of darkness and solitude.” Another prominent scientist, John Cappacio, perceived isolation as “beyond damaging our thinking powers, can even harm our physical health.”

Increasingly, however, scientists are approaching solitude as something that when pursued by choice can prove therapeutic.

A desire for solitude can also be the hallmark of a mature and intelligent mind. Many intellectuals find themselves in nature.

It has been reported that Bill Gates once took off for Sri Lanka, alone. He knew no one, spoke to no one, but taking a break from the rhythm of rush to reflect on the rhythm of life, his goals and to improve his mental being. We know not how and what Bill Gates learned, but we do know that every year he spends two “think weeks” in a cabin in the woods, to be by himself. Does it help his well-being? We think so.

To fully escape the mundane and concentrate on the substance of true life, must of necessity be a personal choice. Once deeply in touch with yourself, you can discover you could be the next Hemingway, or Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps Di Caprio is more realistic.

Why have great thinkers championed the intellectual and spiritual solitude? Men like Leo Tzu, Moses, Nietzsche among others sang its praises? Because solitude is not being alone. They are in sync with their own genius.

Can a painter paint, or a composer make music, or an author write a book unless they are alone with their feelings and their art?

No, you need not go to Sri Lanka, or seek an isolated cabin, or a solitary beach house in winter to find true solitude. You can find it right in your bedroom.

If you dedicate only 10 minutes before you start your day to be alone with your thoughts, meditate, reflect, plan, you will feel refreshed, empowered, and at peace. Is that too difficult?

Block off the rest of the world and all its mess. Focus on yourself.

What? You are too busy to dedicate 10 minutes for yourself? Then you definitely need to.

You take vacations, don’t you? The more, the merrier, crowds form your happiness.

Why are you afraid to be alone?

 A study by Tinbury University, the Netherlands, published in Personality & Social Psychology, concluded that “people who seek solitude often experience ostracism in their society network.”

Strike a balance, but consider yourself first. Does society consult you when it lays down its rules?

Forget society. Make your own rules. If society does not like them, you do.

Concentrate on you. Solitude helps heal the mind, even in a lockdown.

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room, alone!”

 Blaise Pascal (1622-1662)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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