Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Praise of Solitude


  • What’s the difference between solitude and loneliness? Read here.

  • Here’s an article on how remembering solitude can help families. It's written for single parents, but married or not the principles still apply.

  • Contrary to my essay title in Get Satisfied, I really am not completely ignoring Walden. If you’ve got 10 minutes, see what Thoreau had to say about solitude. The guy could really write.

  • There’s a whole Web network on the life of solitude. Here’s a link from it on solitude poems. This may be the first Lewis Caroll I’ve read outside of from Alice in Wonderland:

I love the stillness of the wood
I love the music of the rill
I love to couch in pensive mood
Upon some silent hill.


I just had a piece called Ignoring Walden published. In reality, I don’t have a big chip on my shoulder about Walden or Henry David Thoreau. It’s more like an aversion to extremism, mixed with a jealousy for something I will likely never attain: extensive time alone in a remote cabin.

I am typing this in a foreign bed, 2:30 AM. My birthday gift from Tom and Gavin was an overnight at Mercy Center, my writing home away from home and the closest I may get to Walden. It is eerily silent here. I know that there are other overnighters elsewhere in this vast building, but I feel remarkably alone. It is so silent that I fear my laptop keys might wake somebody. (Thank God I don’t have an old Remington, complete with ringing carriage return!)

My obsession with writing sometimes drives me to a fault. Yesterday, walking alone on the grounds here, watching the waves crash Wuthering Heights-style below, I surprised myself and chose to keep my laptop under wraps for a while. I descended to the beach, sat on a rock, and thought. I turned a faded conch over in my hands and gazed out over the sea. Profound thoughts welled up from seemingly nowhere. Thoughts about God, my purpose, and the broad view of life.

Wow, I thought, the Long Island Sound really has mystical powers. And, yes, the scenery helped. But I realize now that another huge factor was my rare time truly alone. Even when I have those small windows I cherish to write or relax, it is rare that I sit and just listen for what truths might be waiting. I write surrounded by the bustle of my household or a Starbucks crowd. I relax by flipping channels or walking through my village. Even when physically alone, I am hooked on ‘mind candy’—e-mails, Internet, music, even my beloved writing. None of these things are inherently wrong, and my life would feel bleak without them.

But sometimes I need a fast from all of that mind candy, a true solitude. This means putting down pen (or keyboard) and closing my eyes. Hearing only my breathing. Resurrecting a neglected thought or prayer, one that can’t be sensed without a quieting of the mind, an attitude of intent.

There’s a reason people have ideas in the shower, or during their work commute. Though not necessarily very quiet moments, these settings are little windows of solitude, short periods when the mind can wander a bit. If the shower and the car hold such promise, just imagine how far the mind and spirit can expand when we really commit to some intentional time alone, reunited with that “still, small voice” within.

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At 10/23/2007 6:24 AM, Anonymous Linda said...

I, too, am learning to listen more. To let go of my agenda, so to speak, and to open myself up to the wisdom of the universe. I find that my best days are when I meditate in the morning and then again before bedtime.

At 10/26/2007 1:41 PM, Anonymous Mommie said...

KaTHY, i find this quite lovely! The quiet echoes through your well chosen words! M.


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