It is quite clear that solitude can be interpreted in several different ways.
Being alone is description of being separated from other things: ‘being on your own’. In itself it has no negative or positive attributes. It is usually a temporary state.
Being lonely is an expression of the emotional pain of being alone. This is a very negative feeling and state of existence.
Isolation is commonly seen as an extended, involuntary ‘being alone’: an unwelcome separation from things and people around you. Incarceration, confinement, imprisonment, solitary confinement being examples of this. This is a very negative damaging experience.
Solitude could and should be seen as a voluntary and temporary state of being alone. It should also be seen, at least in part, as a positive emotional, mental and spiritual aspect of aloneness.
Solitude has been used as a personal (spiritual, mental or emotional) tool for thousands of years both in the West and the East.
There are many facets to this actively seeking a separation from society. Key amongst this is to use the distance between yourself ‘in society’ and yourself outside society (ie in the wilderness or nature) to reflect upon your self (ego). The removal of all the noise and distraction from the everyday helps build an internal voice with which we can have a greater dialogue with – a means of connecting with ourselves and our instinct. Great illumination and understanding of intractable problems have been found using solitude and our inner dialogue.
However it is not for everyone. Solitude requires a prepared mind. One that is equipped for the ’emptiness’ left by stepping out of everyday life. Too much time in solitude can elevate your sense of self and inner voice to levels that distort clear thinking (hence the ranting hermit). I have a personal limit of 3 months before the wheels start coming off. I am human. I am an animal of connection, I am evolved to live within community. But I still need periods of solitude.
There is a strong argument around the effects on our wellbeing through the absence of solitude. The busy, stressful, tech-heavy, consumer rich, artificially connected, concrete-plastic-metal-urban-crowded society leads to high levels of mental health disorders, stress and burn-out. Solitude is the re-set button.
Hence there is solace in solitude.
Here at Aquafolium we cater for those in need of solitude. Stress, over-work, burnout and other symptoms of modern life are regular visitors to the forests from where we operate. We carefully hold spaces in order to allow solitude in nature to give space, give presence and to develop inner-voice in order to re-centre, create purpose and to nourish enough that people can return to the fray – or if they chose – another path.
In our work we have also discovered that solitude in nature does not actually have to be solitary work. It can be done with company too.
For a fuller, referenced article about Solitude. Please click Wild about Solitude (February 2018)