I think it is important to identify a difference between solitude and being alone, and loneliness and isolation. I think that, for some people, the simple state of being alone automatically makes them crave human interaction – they feel isolated and lonely, and being alone is a negative experience. Alice Koller writes:
Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
My mother offered me another grain of wisdom (perhaps this blog needs a subtitle: “Advice from Mum”) before I left for Singapore that still echoes in my mind, especially on days when I consciously realise I’m alone.
“You’ll be alright,” she offered, another attempt to get me to stop staring at walls and start packing. “Some people can be by themselves. You’re OK on your own. You don’t get … lonely. You know what I mean. You can be alone and not feel like something’s wrong, like you have been abandoned or forgotten. You just … keep going.”
Solitude and being alone is hard to achieve. Let’s face it, we’re constantly connected. I won’t lie: on Monday night, I clutched my mobile phone for a good fourteen minutes until I put it forced myself to put it aside and focus on simply enjoying my meal. We can be with people even when we’re alone – technology has given us that opportunity and while I think it’s amazing I can text my grandparents in Australia while I’m eating a meal in Singapore, it’s also detrimental to the practice of solitude.
And that is what we must do. We must practise solitude so that we can better understand ourselves. Solitude and being alone is an art. It is an art I am yet to master, but an art at which I’m improving. I discover parts of myself that can only be found when walking through winding cobblestone streets without a map or companion, when eating a meal without stimulating conversation or idle chatter, or when sitting in a park and staring off into the world that exists beyond this one, crafting stories in my mind.
There are moments when I am anxious about being alone, moments when I feel lonely. But then there are moments when I am alone, moments when I am practising the art of solitude – these are the moments I wish for you.
My writing wish for you this week is for you to spend some time alone. Switch off your phone, leave your notebook in your bag, and enjoy your own company. Take a walk, go out for a meal, or do some people watching from a park bench. Take pleasure in being alone and practise solitude.
This post has also been cross-posted at Budding Writer’s League.