May 4, 2011

Simple Pleasures: Solitude

Sartre wrote that "hell is other people". He must have enjoyed his solitude.

Solitude is not looked upon favourably in our culture. Often it is interpreted as loneliness, and is therefore avoided at all costs. Instead, our days are chaotic busyness complete with flashing lights, movement, laughing friends, and a sound track with driving beat.

However, many great things have been attributed to times of solitude. Albert Einstein recognized this, and said that the solitude which he found painful in youth, was delicious in his later years. 'Delicious' because he knew solitude was a requirement for his creative thinking. You can't add anything more to a full cup - you need emptiness first.

But it is not just geniuses that should delight in down time. We all need moments of being alone and quiet. Time to think, ponder, and recuperate. Time to solve vexing personal conundrums. Time to lose yourself, wherever you are. Time to saunter, stroll, and meander with no schedule, and no destination. Or to be still and do nothing.

The failing work ethic that says we must always be doing something was manufactured to keep us busy, distracted, obedient, and out of trouble. Solitude, stillness, quiet, and independent thought in such a framework are seen as aberrations and a threat. They are labeled as "lazy", or "wasting one's time", and perhaps even "dangerous", "radical" and "anti-social".

But once we break free of such cultural programming we discover the magic in the truth of the matter. Creativity, regeneration, reconnection with nature and our selves, as well as the answers to the universe, can be found during times of solitude. Sure we need each other, but solitude helps balance us so that when we are together we can be more effective.

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