Solitude is not just for the introverts as we have been pushed into it involuntarily in 2020. The first wave of enforced social distancing was not enough for us to realise how much the direct encounters, touch and communication with real people means to us. As we battle another season of the pandemic confinement it hits us like a tsunami. Meals out with friends and family are just vague imprints of our memory, concerts and theatre moved to virtual screens, kissing strangers, hugging the bereaved, celebrating in a group dance — all are just distant dreams of the yesteryear. We are like the birds caged in our solitude. Now that we are not allowed to or should not socialise, we feel precisely what we have lost.
Solitude has not just cracked our lives in 2020 though. We have been moving towards more solitary lifestyles for decades. Despite moving to crowded cities, we are more alone. The quantity of human flesh does not equal proximity. Tribal and community-led lifestyles rapidly disappearing, replaced by the distance-erasing technology, even the women’s independence-fueled empowerment have all lured humans away from each other’s company.
Books were published about lonely lifestyle, more even since the new millennium’s break. Haruki Murakami addressed single men, Olivia Laing the city dwellers, Erling Kagge nature adventure seekers, while the Frenchman’s Michel de Montaigne On Solitude took up a philosophical tone centuries ago. With the winter looming, perhaps, it is time to pick up one of these or other editions on being alone (this post published in the Medium recommends a handful of great titles).
The dark side of solitude turned into the light
Isolation and solitude have defined the ominous 2020. Social distancing is not natural for human beings, yet some time alone can change your life. For better or worse, it is up to you what attitude you decide to adopt for this involuntary season of solo pondering. Unlike a bite of pumpkin pie, shifting attitudes requires plenty of inner strength, clearing one’s clouded emotional mind and buckets of motivation. I have been through this myself. While lucky in this scenario, not being burdened by children and their scholarly and attention-grabbing needs, I am not inhuman and love company of diverse people. Feeling the others’ presence — engaging with them, swapping emotional pheromones of love or quarreling lightly over a disagreement, is exciting and it makes me feel connected with the abundant energy on this planet. Yet, there is other life next to the at times potentially exploitative or distracting humanity out here. Most of us ignore this other life in the business of our social, with hard work-filled lifestyles. It’s right out there in nature.
The light side of solitude
Animals, trees, the waters and the hills, they all beam with a fascinating existence. I often include their life stories in my poetry. In fact, even when you are alone, you are never left in solitude with nature. The silent companion may speak a different language from ours, but if you listen to the body language of the natural presence, you will grasp the meaning.
Since the concrete walls of our apartments and houses have the power to cut you off from the natural world, you must open the window, venture out into the forest, a park, mountain, anywhere away from the civilisation’s reach to escape your solitude.
There is light in being on your own for some time. The space you may gain lets the unconscious float more uninterrupted. Freed from the daily preoccupation of commuting, conversing and gatherings, the deep mysteries of your own truth may resurface if you listen to yourself. Distancing prevents you not just from infectious diseases, but also gives you more space with your own I, the self. More, we need this now in this speedy rush of the 21st century in order to harmonise not just our souls but also the world. This is a wake-up call, a knock on your soul or just a messenger dropping a letter from the ignored friend.
Unless you are not able to escape the duty of parenthood or taking care of your ageing parent shut inside with you, you shall take advantage of this unique opportunity in the history of mankind. The light in darkness is about deciding to spark it yourself. The fear of missing out was taken by the train of Covid away from your home.
Think about monks and saints. They have not only seeked escape from the crowds and all human company, but they were enlightened during that spacious time they spent with their soul and with nature contemplating the greater reality. Inspired, artists like the musicians and writers source from the fertile well in solitary musings. No need to move to a cave or building a treehouse, you can carve a snippet of your own home to yourself. In a bath, in the bedroom, on the tiny balcony, there is always a room just for you. Importantly, you must let others know that you need time alone and remind them by a sign on the door. Meditate, journal, read, listen to music, just do something very simple, easy and be kind to yourself.
Not only introverts can enjoy solitude. In Japan, especially in large cities I have witnessed the pleasure of solitary dining or browsing in a park on countless occasions. These wanderers looked so peaceful and content that I longed for such moments myself. Each time I dined alone, I savored the meal with more awareness, when I cruised through the park I stopped and marvelled at the blooming trees, changing leaves or the shapes of the branches naked, stripped by the winter’s cold.
It is not as rosy to be on one’s own for too long though.
The psychological shortcomings of solitude are, next to other forms of long-term isolation, forms of torture. Humanity needs communication and not just the extroverts, as we are social animals. Since we cannot meet in person, it warms our hearts just to call someone, to talk about our ups and downs, to share our emotions.
I expressed the beauty of the inner battle and melting in the presence of solitude in this poem:
I love rain, a water pig splashing in the storm’s rippling pools
Arrozes-moi, je adore la pluie, dancing under the sky’s wings
Immersed deep like a flower in a vase, avowing nature’s spontaneous play when I have to be
Embrasses-moi, je goûte tous tes larmes, celebrating the verdant growth of youth
Inside in my dry room, alone with the lamp’s light, unsettled by the outside gloom
A candle melts, time drips by my desk, where often ideas and stories bloom
In the soothing song of rain, all alone, I find peace, grateful for my existence
Accepting the Oneness, swimming through the storms of now without resistance
This purity of reality comforts my longing soul, melting anger, all the vanities
Invented by the mind, yet all I know for sure is that change births hope