On Loneliness and Solitude
 Kent Nerburn


You should spend time alone.  Not just minutes and hours, but days, and if the opportunity presents itself, weeks.

Time spent alone returns to you a hundredfold, because it is the proving ground of the spirit.  You quickly find out if you are at peace with yourself, or if the meaning of your life is found only in the superficial affairs of the day.  If it is in the superficial affairs of the day, time spent alone will throw you back upon yourself in a way that will make you grow in wisdom and inner strength.

We can easily fill our days with activity.  We buy, we sell, we move from place to place.  There is always more to be done, always a way to keep from staring into the still pool where life is more than the chatter of the small affairs of the mind.

If we are not careful, we begin to mistake this activity for meaning.  We turn our lives into a series of tasks that can occupy all the hours of the clock and still leave us breathless with our sense of work left undone.

And always there is work undone.  We will die with work undone.  The labors of life are endless.  Better that you should accept the rhythms of life and know that there are times when you need to stop to draw a breath, no matter how great the labors are before you.

For many people, solitude is just a poet's word for being alone.  But being alone, in itself, is nothing.  It can be a breeding ground of loneliness as easily as a source of solitude.

Solitude is a condition of peace that stands in direct opposition to loneliness.  Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space around you.  It is a condition of separateness.  Solitude is becoming one with the space around you.  It is a condition of union.

Loneliness is small, solitude is large.  Loneliness closes in around you; solitude expands towards the infinite.  Loneliness has its roots in words, in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity.

Most people fear being alone because they understand only loneliness.  Their understanding begins at the self, and they are comfortable only as long as they are at the center of their understanding.  Solitude is about getting the "I" out of the center of our thoughts so that other parts of life can be experienced in their fullness.  It is about abandoning the self as the focus of understanding, and giving ourselves over to the great flowing fabric of the universe.

In solitude silence becomes a symphony.  Time changes from a series of moments strung together into a seamless motion riding on the rhythms of the stars.  Loneliness is banished, solitude is in full flower, and we are one with the pulse of life and the flow of time.

The awareness we experience in solitude is priceless for the peace it can give.  It is also the key to true loving in our relationships.  When we have a part of ourselves that is firm, confident, and alone, we don't need another person to fill us.  We know that we have private spaces full of goodness and self-worth, and we grant the same to those we love.  We do not try to pry into every corner of their lives or to fill the emptiness inside us with their presence.

As always, look at the world around you.  The mountain is not restless in its aloneness.  The hawk tracing circles in the sky is not longing for union with the sun.  They exist in the perfect peace of an eternal present, and that is the peace that one finds only in solitude.  Find this peace in yourself, and you will never know another moment of loneliness in your life.

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Loneliness is one of the most feared states in modern life.  Perhaps
this fear has come about because so many of us have a vague awareness
of a surging river of loneliness deep inside.  Much of our activity and
busyness is designed to keep that river within its banks.
   Maybe loneliness has received a bad rap in today's world.  Maybe
loneliness is one of the ways our inner being communicates with us,
letting us know that we need to take the time to get back in touch with
ourselves.  Could it be that the emptiness we feel in our solar plexus
(and try so hard to avoid) is a friendly reminder that something
(or someone!) has gone missing--we ourselves!
   When we are lonely, it's usually a signal that we need to spend
some time with ourselves.  The next time you get this signal,
try taking some time alone.

Anne Wilson Schaef



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It is a difficult lesson to learn today--to leave one's friends and
family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour
or a day or a week.  And yet, once it is done, I find there is a
quality to being alone that is incredibly precious.  Life rushes
back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh