Having recently moved to a new city, the concept of loneliness has begun to feature disproportionately in all of my conversations. What occurred to me during these talks is that most people do not value isolation in the way I do; they fail to see the beauty in being alone. But why is isolation pitied and not revered?
I believe the connotations associated with isolation, and isolation seeking behaviour, are primarily to blame for this lack of consensus. At best, isolation is labelled as a symptom of adversity or punishment. At worst, it is something deviant and dangerously self-indulgent; to seek it is akin to madness. In fact, people seem to think my aptitude for self-imposed exile is an act of my impending insanity; and those who are optimistic about my fate think I am simply anti-social and incapable of forming healthy attachments. (You’ve got to love unsolicited psychological evaluations from people who couldn’t distinguish psychosis from psoriasis; they’re the best.)
However, isolation can also be a meditative state of peace: it can be solitude. In rather stark comparison to a punishment, solitude is a welcome luxury in a world of constant communication and overwhelming stimuli. I should also add that being alone is not a necessary or even sufficient condition for feeling lonely; I have felt more alone in a room full of people than I have in months of isolation. Thus the distinction lies in the positive and negative perspectives of isolation, if you see loneliness or solitude that is entirely up to you.
Another reason I think there are such disparities in the understanding of isolation, is how people utilize this time and the importance it holds for them. Some see it as time that needs to be passed, endured, and filled by distractions (addressing why people feel the need to distract themselves from themselves is another post entirely). But for me it is sacred, and deeply intertwined with both my sanity and existence. I use this time to unravel my tangled thoughts, to reflect, and to create; in fact I feel it is essential for creativity, productivity, and growth.
You are probably thinking that references to my sanity and existence are a tad melodramatic and an inflated justification, but let me digress briefly into the theory of my madness… This argument is rooted in my philosophical inclinations; specifically, I am a staunch supporter of Descartes’s cogito argument. If you are unfamiliar with this argument, then our education system has failed yet again.
Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am.
So you see, time alone with my thoughts is validation of my existence, of the only reality; without this I would surely lose myself.
So by seeking solitude I am not self-destructive, anti-social, or depressed. I have developed a capacity to prosper in solitude rather than crumble in isolation, and I am utilizing that. Also, in case this all seems like the dubious ramblings of a madwoman, some great thinkers over the years have agreed with me (although I admit not many, a very small minority, ok like three). One wise dude called Fromm argued that solitude seeking has a developmental function, showing increased intelligence and reasoning, as young people begin to detach from society to develop as individuals. An even wiser man, whom I call bae, had much to say on the topic, but I will leave you with one of his more poignant thoughts…
“I go into solitude so as not to drink out of everybody’s cistern. When I am among the many I live as the many do, and I do not think I really think. After a time it always seems as if they want to banish my self from myself and rob me of my soul.” Nietzsche