“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms
I spent yesterday on my own — save of course for Alfie but he seemed miles away.
I mostly read, alongside a bit of ironing and housework.
I used to be fanatical about cleaning — a hangover from living with fastidious parents — but I cleaned enough so that Alli and the girls could come back home without much to do.
It was no accident that the book I found myself inexorably drawn to was 'Journal of a Solitude' by May Sarton.
What an extraordinary book — right up there with my top two or three books.
I'm not sure now if this post is inspired by the book or my being alone. The latter, I think.
You see, for most of my childhood and probably up to the time I met Alli (1989), I spent vast tracts of time on my own. If my recollection serves me well, it was a combination of having no relationship with my elder and only brother — two years my senior — and my parents making it quite clear to me (no doubt, because I was an awkward SOB) that children (i.e. me) should be seen and not heard; I went one better and routinely left the house, either after school finished, the weekends or during school holidays; and I mostly walked around the Devon lanes or went to the beach — Paignton or Goodrington.
I'd be lying if I can now articulate the full range of emotions but certainly, in my mid-teens, it became my form of daily meditation. I wouldn't at the time have used that sort of language but I was very happy being alone, save for the deliciousness that nature had to offer.
Looking back after all these years, being on my own saved me. Saved me from boredom, from the full cacophony and brittleness of teenage angst and, without overstating the point, falling into complete, soul-crushing darkness.
If you asked me to articulate some of my happiest memories from my childhood they wouldn't be replete with much — certainly not things I did with my parents — save the fact that I loved being at one with nature, or being outside with nothing more than the sun on my back, something to eat and the freedom to explore — and get into mischief!
Of course, this is how I was and am expressed. There was no willing this: it just occurred spontaneously. I'm not saying I didn't question the feeling of loss in not doing much else with my life, but I made the best of what I had.
There's something quite spiritual about solitude and the silence that ensues. I fully accept this feeling isn't universal: many people feel very anxious (and worse still) at being alone and on their own for any period of time. I wonder why that is? I realise that as human beings we need connection and are drawn to relationships — in whatever form — but there's a part of me that would question why so many of us appear drawn in the direction of a noisy, activity-filled, experience-driven world? Is it to negate or at least ameliorate the perceived effects of silence or solitude? I don't want to make any assumptions, crazy or otherwise, but I know a few people in my orbit who seem unable to be on their own for any period of time, and when they're with me or my family, they've this incessant need to speak without allowing silence to enter the conversation. And that's fine on one level but then again, it's the gaps that I often think reveal so much. I'm quite sure if they enjoyed or had a different relationship with solitude their minds would be a tad quieter. I don't know that for sure but I do wonder.
What am I really trying to say?
Well, if this Covid19 period has shown us anything, there exists a mixed bag of emotion towards solitude, abstinence and (for quite a few people) remote working. Even if you're expressed to avoid all the worst effects of this, I'd question if the time we've had to ourselves (and that may not apply if you've had young children to school and entertain!) has at least opened up a space to think, to think deeply about some of those issues that have been circling these past years without ever or rarely being confronted. That's at least what it's felt like to me, chief among those the compulsion to keep myself busy, thinking that absent 'doing' my life might be a write-off. That's not, thankfully, been the case. For the first few weeks, I did practically nothing, save a very small amount of work. I read, I slept, I walked but most of all I sat with the heightened feeling of having nothing to do. It was hard. Very hard. But I came through it. And, if nothing else, it reminded me how comfortable and life-affirming it is to have nothing to do, nowhere to go and to be in solitude with solitude — if that's not too tautological.
In short, those first few weeks in lockdown helped me see the sort of life I'm more naturally at home with and alive to than the always-on world I'd convinced myself was the holy grail of a life well lived.
And that feeling hasn't abated.
What about you?
What's your relationship to solitude?
Anyhow, it's that time again. I'm not sure where Alfie is but I've this sneaking suspicion he's hiding somewhere in the house. Perhaps he's getting old or I walk too far, but right now he's not inclined to come out with me first thing. Silly old dog.
Blessings and much love ❤️, Ju
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