Friday, September 19, 2014

The longing for solitude

Our family experiences a lot of solitude.

It's inevitable where we live. It takes a lot more work to socialize, certainly more than just stepping out our front door where we're far more likely to bump into a deer than a person. Therefore our default status is solitude.

Solitude is defined as "the state of being or living alone; remoteness from habitations; or a lonely, unfrequented place." If you consult a thesaurus, you'll notice there's not really many flattering synonyms for solitude. The best the English language can offer is Loneliness, Privacy, Isolation, Seclusion. They all have negative connotations, as if solitude is something to be avoided.

But our family loves solitude. Each one of us thrives on Loneliness, Privacy, Isolation, and Seclusion.

While undoubtedly there are some intensely social types for whom solitude is a panicky state of affairs devoutly to be avoided, this clearly isn't universal. In fact, if you google "the longing for solitude" on the internet, you find a lot of people who long to "find" themselves and so depart far away in order to locate what apparently has been lost. Invariably they discover what they're seeking, pen some heartfelt poetry, and return once again to their normal, crowded lives. In other words, solitude is considered at best a temporary state of affairs, a time to recharge one's batteries before facing the Real World once again.

But it also seems to be a psychological necessity. Psychology Today notes, "What's really blocking our joy in relationships, our creativity, and our peace of mind? One surprising answer, in this age of alienation, is a lack of solitude. Meaningful alonetime, it turns out, is a powerful need and a necessary tonic in today's rapid-fire world. Indeed, solitude actually allows us to connect to others in a far richer way.

Invariably, solitude meets with social questioning, if not censure. Even worse, people associate going it alone with antisocial pursuits and unnecessary risk taking. Perhaps most striking, solitude conjures up pangs of loneliness."

In other words, solitude is an apologetic longing, as if it's shameful not to thrive in crowds or need a break once in awhile from the hustle and bustle.

And while solitude is acknowledged as good and necessary, no one quite knows what to do with people who prefer solitude.

Not all of us who seek solitude are "lost." Some of us have found solitude to be so enjoyable that we've made it our normal status quo. In fact it might be argued that we solitary types have already "found" ourselves and are subsequently so comfortable being alone or with beloved family members that we have no need to buffet our senses with a great number of others.

I hope this doesn't sound like we don't wish to socialize with friends and neighbors because nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we are blessed to have neighbors who are also friends and with whom we enjoy socializing.

What I mean is, we do not miss the intensely and unavoidably social environs of urban life. I see photos of full stadiums, and it makes me recoil. I have absolutely no desire to be among such a sea of humanity.

There's a certain beauty in urban landscapes, but I couldn't live there. Been there, done that.

I find myself far more drawn to photos of lonely, beautiful spots:

Lately on my Pandora station, I've been "up thumbing" examples of early church music and Gregorian chants to supplement my beloved selection of Baroque classical music. Perhaps unconsciously I recognize the pull of solitude early Christians felt in order to hear the voice of God more clearly.

These early Christians were merely part of a subset of humanity who has always preferred solitude to society. Thoreau is probably the best known example, but consider these lines from William Butler Yeats (1839-1922):

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Even Jane Austen in her book Emma has Jane Fairfax lament, "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone!"

I get up very early in the morning, sometimes around 4 am. In the winter this means I light the woodstove and feel the flames gradually start to warm the house. The dawn breaks hours later, and it's my habit to walk outside to release the chickens, then sneak into the barn to watch the deer that can invariably be found at the edge of the woods, browsing.

In the summer these early hours means I'm privileged to listen to meadowlarks and robins as they greet the day. Sometimes I see dawn rainbows on the edge of a retreating shower.

It's because we have the luxury of lots of solitude that we enjoy the occasional excursions into hyper-socialization, i.e. sales trips.

When those excursions are over, we retreat once again into our beloved solitude where we can water the garden, make some tankards, watch the deer, have dinner with neighbors, commune with the chickens, milk a cow, or watch a sunrise.

The best of both worlds.


  1. The Eagle and the Mole

    Avoid the reeking herd,
    Shun the polluted flock,
    Live like that stoic bird,
    The eagle of the rock.

    The huddled warmth of crowds
    Begets and fosters hate;
    He keeps above the clouds
    His cliff inviolate.

    When flocks are folded warm,
    And herds to shelter run,
    He sails above the storm,
    He stares into the sun.

    If in the eagle's track
    Your sinews cannot leap,
    Avoid the lathered pack,
    Turn from the steaming sheep.

    If you would keep your soul
    From spotted sight or sound,
    Live like the velvet mole:
    Go burrow underground.

    And there hold intercourse
    With roots of trees and stones,
    With rivers at their source,
    And disembodied bones.

    -Elinor Wylie

  2. Our life is like yours. Peace and quiet and solitude. No neighbors or barking dogs. Once in a while we go to a big town and can't wait to get home again. Love the wildlife here and mark the seasons by their comings and goings.

    1. Amen Tewshooz. +2 here in the rural northwest. Having peace and the ability to savor it are truly a blessings.
      Montana Guy

  3. Solitary = peace. Could not agree with this post more.

    @Anonymous: the Wylie poem is perfect. She died far too young.
    "In masks outrageous and austere, The years go by in single file; But none has merited my fear, And none has quite escaped my smile."

  4. I concur. There is NO place like a quiet place of solitude. I have been experiencing it now for over a year and will NEVER go back. The animals, the birds the insects make the most wonderful music.

  5. As a lover of contemplative solitude, my apartment is my sanctuary. I live in a small New England town which is mostly amenable to solitude.

    But, oh! The neighbors who rise and crank up the TV, leave it blaring all day and into the do these people survive? And why must they drag the rest of us into their perpetual noise?

  6. I grew up on an Illinois farm where the nearest neighbor was 1/4 mile away. I had a uncle that lived in Dayton Ohio and when he and his girls came out to stay the girls had a hard time sleeping because of the noise of the cows and various bugs. It was not what they were used to. I was talking with my neighbor on the phone today and I told him he was just about as close as I wanted my neighbor to be, again about 1/4 mile. Close enough to walk to but not so close that you would want to do it often. My son is a trim carpenter and he took me to one of the houses he was working on in a suburb called Ponder north of Dallas. This house was VERY nice, worth about 1.5 million and he took me upstairs to a window on the second or 3rd floor where through an open window you could literally touch the house next door! I remembered thinking that you could buy a really nice house and about 20-40 acres not to far from there that would have been a much better use of the money.

    1. Amen to that. My spouse and I have always said that if we ever have more money than we know what to do with, we're buying land, not a McMansion on a postage-stamp lot.

    2. Our daughter and her gang come for a visit every Christmas. Her husband can't stand the quiet. He has to have a fan running all night or he can't sleep! My wife loves our solitude here (20 acres in the middle of Nowhere, AZ), but she, too, can't sleep unless we have a fan or our air ionizer running! I have never understood this. I LOVE the QUIET.

    3. I have allergies so for years I ran an air cleaner in the bed room. My allergies are better now but I have a clock radio that has a white noise function, you can also listen to rain, thunder, and other nature sounds, by using the white noise I can not hear the dogs barking at the coyotes or any other outside sounds and I find I sleep much better to a constant noise rather than an intermittent one.

  7. After spending 34 years living in Southern California I cannot tell you what a wonderful relief it was as I drove over the state line into Arizona on my way to my native Wisconsin. I always had this feeling of being trapped in a box along with millions of other people having Mexico to the south, the ocean to the west, mountains to the east, and LA to the north. In the event of a major catastrophe there were only a few main arteries to get out and they would be totally clogged in the event of an emergency. Patrice struck a chord as she made a similar observation as she was driving out of Portland a few years ago. Now I live on the edge of a small town of approximately 8,000 people. Nine stop lights from one end to the other. I am still a survivalist (I don't like the term prepper) with my year's supply of food and all the equipment to back it up. But now I feel much more at ease with farms and forest less than a mile away and my secluded cabin just to the north. I have extended family with farms and livestock close by. The definition of seclusion is in the soul of the each of us and to me I feel free and secure.

  8. You spoke my heart! I LOVE solitude. I too have lived in cities and while there is a charm to a city, the solitude of not very many people and usually only the ones you want, is heaven!

  9. Just today on my drive home, I was wondering if I have inherited some sort of gene from my father which makes us, what my mother calls, "hermits". I really enjoy being around people, but I just dream and dream of living off and alone somewhere with my family. In my work and in my home ( 5 children, 1 hubby), people just never leave me alone. It's exhausting to say the least. I really believe that our greatest resource lies within ourselves. Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven is within. Anyways, thank you for this post. I am a reader of your blog, just not a big commentator. You make sense in a lot of ways.

  10. I have come to relish my solitude and enjoy that what nature serenades me with. I am profoundly deaf and even with that I enjoy the quiet. I tried fancy, expensive hearing aides and promptly returned them the next day, much, too much noise.
    Kevin Cederquist

  11. That was beautifully done Patrice. Thank you.

  12. My perfect home would be in the center of at least 10 acres with access to the internet and a good library - altho now with Kindle even the library isn't necessary. I love solitude and always have even as a child. What I have now is a home on a suburban lot with neighbors on one side, empty lots across the street and on the other side and a 3 story apt building in the back (built after we moved here). I find solitude outside by our pool, in a BR with my computer and sometimes on the front patio. Only occasionally is anyone else outside unless it is to mow. I've seen bobcats, coyotes, opossums, armadillos, several different snakes, many birds including egrets, blue herons & wood storks,& nesting mocking birds with their unending varied songs, lots of butterflies and some really interesting bugs. It's not my perfect place but it'll do just fine. Solitude is where you find it and where you make it. It within each of us if we want it.

  13. My husband and daughter both dread the thought of being alone. I love being alone about 95 % of the time, but then I want to be near another person or persons. That strikes me as a good balance.

  14. Thanks, Patrice, I needed that.

    It's good to know that I'm not the only one who enjoys-- make that actually needs-- large doses of solitude. Not the only one who doesn't look at a teeming sea of humanity and see "a good time."

    Sometimes I forget that it's not just the disease, not just something to be got over so I can be "normal."

  15. My mother in law calls it "happy lonesome". Perfect!

  16. Loneliness is a state of mind not a state of being, someone once said. People who enjoy solitude are those that realise that.

  17. Thanks for a beautiful post and comments. I always look forward to your posts, and this one hit it out of the park.

  18. So being a "loner" ain't so crazy after all. I'm most comfortable on my own.
    To the commenter who stated the with a "kindle", ya didn't have any need for a (gen-u-wine) library..... Suggestion, batteries go dead, electronic devices quit working, but a nice hardbound (or paperback) never quits! Stick with the real deal! Juzz saying....

    1. I wholeheartedly agree! A relative gave me a Kindle. I used it for a few months, then stuck it in a drawer. What a pain! Just another gimmicky gadget for someone to make money on. I'll take a REAL book any day!