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Just when does solitude turn into loneliness?  In my life, "solitude" has always been a positive word, while "loneliness" has been a word that has described some of the most painful feelings I've ever felt.  I can't begin to count the number of days that loneliness and a sense of isolation have developed into severe depression, and to be honest, I don't want to count them or even think about them much.  They're in the past now, and I sincerely hope that they're not a part of my future.  I can't know this, but I certainly can hope.

Solitude signifies being on one's own with one's own thoughts.  For many people, this is a healthy, desirable state in which to be--it's relaxing, refreshing, rejuvenating.  It allows us to check our perspective, to practice introspection so that we may clarify ideas and thoughts.  Being on our own, away from the input of other people's ideas, gives us the opportunity to come into closer contact with who we are, with our sense of morals, with our character, with our goals and hopes and desires.  We're away from peer pressure, from job pressures, from social obligations, and we can use that time to experience some of the quiet that's missing so often in our daily routines.

In a way, solitude helps us from becoming addicted to other people, or to break the addictions to others that we have.  

How can we be addicted to other people?  When we use being with others as an excuse not to be with ourselves, then we're addicted to others.  When we can't spend a moment alone without the television set or radio blaring, then we're addicted to being with others.

An addiction is something that we do or use to avoid dealing with problems or insecurities--the alcoholic doesn't love alcohol as much as he or she wants to avoid dealing with personal issues.  The drug addict is doing the same thing.  Both of them will tell you that they do it for the "high," but the fact is that the high wears off pretty quickly, and the more one drinks or does drugs, the less of a high there is.

Being with other people keeps our minds on other things--we can talk about sports or television or the weather, all the trivial things that fill our lives day to day, without even thinking about the problems we have.  This is why so many people need therapists later in life--because they've spent their youthful years avoiding contemplation and solitude.  They've never been able to come to grips with who and what they are, to accept themselves and to set up challenges for themselves.

Some people search out solitude without even thinking that they need to do so--it's an innate urge with them, something that they do as a matter of course, without even thinking about the psychological benefits of being alone.  These people are very fortunate, for they help themselves in a very important way on a regular basis.

Other people are given solitude involuntarily--with me it came from my insecurities and my inability to fit in with others.  For me, solitude was very often loneliness, and very often painful.  But I know now that I made it painful because of my perspective, and I regret losing so many opportunities that being on my own opened up to me--I'll never be able to get them back.

Find or make time for yourself to be with yourself.  Spend time thinking about who you are and who you want to be.  Examine your strengths and focus on possibilities.  Find the friend inside who has accomplished a lot, and learn to love yourself on your own terms.  If you can do this, you've taken a very important step towards being able to help others to learn about themselves and to be more content with life.


What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.

Ellen Burstyn



Solitude, o solitude
You can't make up your mind
Sometimes you won't leave us alone
Sometimes you're hard to find

At times you wear a different face
And then you change your name
By calling yourself loneliness
You play your cruel game

On summer nights when stars are bright
We don't want you around
But if we want to share the scene
It's often you we've found

Don't think we don't appreciate
The times we need your touch
But when you hang around too long
You always cost too much

tom walsh

Be able to be alone.  Lose not the advantage of solitude.

Thomas Browne

We cannot confront solitude without moral resources.

Honore de Balzac


When we cannot bear to be alone, it means we do not properly value
the only companion we will have from birth to death--ourselves.

Eda LeShan


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We visit others as a matter of social obligation.
How long has it been since we have visited with ourselves?

Morris Adler


Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created
the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created
the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone.

Paul Tillich


The person who travels alone can start today; but the person
who travels with another must wait until the other is ready.

Henry David Thoreau


The Christmas Alone
tom walsh

A few years ago, I spent Christmas day completely alone.  It wasn't entirely by choice, but it happened, and that day was an important turning point in my life.  It was a quiet, peaceful, reflective day--I didn't go out anywhere at all.  I just stayed home and listened to Christmas music and tried to get the most out of what before I would have seen as a very negative situation.  Before it happened, I never would have been able to imagine spending Christmas alone, but I grew more on that day than I ever have on any other day.

To be sure, I come from a family that isn't particularly close--we've never had those holidays with lots of relatives over, those crowded-house ordeals that are so enjoyable.  I've also lived overseas for at least six Christmases, but I've always had somewhere to be during those holidays.  But a few Christmases ago, it became apparent to me that I was probably going to end up being alone for the holiday, and I was surprised to find that I didn't dread the idea.  In fact, it seemed rather attractive.  There were a few places I could have gone that day, but I didn't feel drawn to any of them.  As the day got closer, I turned down a couple of invitations and decided to be on my own that day--just me and God and Christmas music.

The possibility I most dreaded was that of depression coming back--I had just gone through a rather serious bout of it much earlier in the year, and I wasn't too thrilled about the idea of going through it again.  In the past, holidays had sometimes been a trigger for the down feelings, and I didn't want that to happen.  On the other hand, I felt that I needed to do this, and I couldn't go against it just because I was afraid of something that might not even happen.

I have to say that there was really nothing special that day, except for the feeling I had inside that I was turning a very important corner in my life.  There was no moment of epiphany, no miracle in the form of something spectacular, no special contact with God or any of his angels.  The day started with a bowl of oatmeal and some coffee and an english muffin.  As it went on, I read, worked on the computer, listened to music, and thought about friends, wishing them in my mind a very happy Christmas.  I called my parents in the evening, and I might have talked to some other people on the phone.  But that was about it.

The important thing in my life, though, was the fact that that day seemed to act as a kind of catharsis; it was some sort of peak towards which I had been climbing for quite a while.  That day, it truly didn't matter that I was alone.  I had a nice place to live, I had work I loved, I had friends, I had food and shelter, I had clothing and transportation, I had hope for the future and the possibility of making hopes come true.  Yes, there were parts of my life that felt somewhat empty--I was single and didn't want to be, I was working hours that precluded doing a lot of things that I would have liked to have done.  But on that day it was very clear that the good outweighed the bad so strongly that the negative was almost insignificant.

Blaise Pascal said that "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone," and on that day I understood fully what he meant.  On that day most of what Emerson wrote about in "Self-Reliance" was clarified for me--no one can bring us peace or hope or happiness.  It must come from within.  I shouldn't depend on anyone else for my happiness or contentedness--it can come only from within, with some help from faith in a loving God.  On that day I didn't feel that I got closer to God--I felt that I finally let Him get closer to me.  I realized that I was just as worth loving as anyone else He had created, and I let Him be a part of my day.  It was all pretty cool, to tell you the truth.

Eventually, the day came to an end, and I went to bed with the Christmas tree lights on.  I slept on the couch so that the tree could keep me company.  And I went to bed a much wiser person, thankful that I had obeyed the calling to spend the day alone.  I had learned more from that one day than I could have in a year of Christmas days spent in crowds.

And yes, my life was different after that day--it wasn't just a one-day thing.  I found it very easy to be much more accepting of many aspects of my life, especially the loneliness of being single.  Interestingly enough, I met the woman who would become my wife the following summer, and from the moment I met her, I was able to treat her differently than I would have been able to had I not become so accepting of being alone.  And I'm convinced that the way I was able to treat her had everything to do with her eventually becoming my wife.  And I have that Christmas day alone to thank for it.

solitude 2

The cure for all the illness of life is stored in the inner depth of life
itself, the access to which becomes possible when we are alone.
This solitude is a world in itself, full of wonders and resources
unthought of.  It is absurdly near; yet so unapproachably distant.

Rabindranath Tagore



Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self.

May Sarton


We sense that there can be no true communion between human beings
until they have in fact become beings:  for to be able to give oneself one
must have taken possession of oneself in that painful solitude outside of
which nothing belongs to us and we have nothing to give. . . . And one
might even say that I begin to communicate with others as soon as I
begin to communicate with myself.  So true it is that the most tragic
solitude is that which keeps me from forcing the barrier between what
I think I am from what I am:  because then my consciousness has
become such a stranger to my true self and my distress is so great that
I can  no longer say what I desire nor what I lack.  Solitude is to feel
the presence in oneself of a power that cannot act, but which, as soon
as it is able to, obliges me to realize myself by multiplying my relations
with myself and with all human beings.

Louis Lavelle
Le Mal et la Souffrance

Solitude seems so much fuller than alone time.  It has the added elements of peace and time.  Busy mothers can get alone time, and yet they would open a vein for solitude.

Solitude gives us time to let our hair down and see what we need, do what we need, and have the quiet to explore its benefits.  When we have alone time, we can take a quiet bath.  When we have solitude, we can use the quiet bath to explore what we need to do with our solitude.

Busy people may be able to squeeze in alone time now and again. And people who are living in balance require solitude.  Solitude is that quiet mist of peacefulness that enters our ears and makes its own music, enters our eyes and creates its own art, and enters our pores and imagines its own muse.

Solitude returns us to ourselves while expanding us beyond our boundaries.  Solitude is precious and essential.

Anne Wilson Schaef
Meditations for Living in Balance

Deliberately seeking solitude--quality time spent away
from family and friends--may seem selfish.  It is not.
Solitude is as necessary for our creative spirits to develop
and flourish as are sleep and food for our bodies to survive.

Sarah Ban Breathnach


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


I remember my grandfather telling me how each of us must live
with a full measure of loneliness that is inescapable, and we must not
destroy ourselves with our passion to escape this aloneness.

Jim Harrison


The best of all is to Be alone to experience one's soul in Silence.
To be nakedly alone, unseen, is better than anything in the world,
a relief like death.  To Be--alone--is one of life's greatest delights.



We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free
from loneliness and fear.  Loneliness is inner emptiness.  Solitude
is inner fulfillment.  Solitude is not first a place but a state of mind
and heart.  There is a solitude of heart that can be maintained at
all times.  Crowds or the lack of them have little to do with this inward
attentiveness.  It is quite possible to be a desert hermit and never
experience solitude.  But if we possess inward solitude we will not fear
being alone, for we know that we are not alone.  Neither do we fear
being with others, for they do not control us.  In the midst of noise
and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence.

Teresa of Avila


Wise people are never less alone than when they are alone.

Jonathan Swift


The most comprehensive formula for human culture which I know was
given by the old peasant who, on his death bed, obtained from his son
this one promise:  to sit every day for half an hour alone in the best room.

Johannes Anker Larsen


Yes, I felt closer to my fellow human beings, too, even in my solitude.  For it is not physical solitude that actually separates one from others, not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation.  It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love.  It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger.  When one is a stranger to oneself than one is estranged from others, too.  In one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.  How often in a large city, shaking hands with my friends, I have felt the wilderness stretching between us.  Both of us were wandering in arid wastes, having lost the springs that nourished us--or having found them dry.  Only when one is connected to one's own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover.  And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Without solitude, love will not stay long by your side.
Because love needs to rest, so that it can journey through the
heavens and reveal itself in other forms.
Without solitude, no plant or animal can survive, no soil can
remain productive, no child can learn about life, no artist can
create, no work can grow and be transformed.
Solitude is not the absence of Love, but its complement.
Solitude is not the absence of company, but the moment when
our soul is free to speak to us and help us decide what
to do with our life.
Therefore, blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are
not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately
looking for something to do, something to amuse themselves
with, something to judge.
If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.

Paulo Coelho
Manuscript Found in Accra

In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on
occasion; in order to serve others better, one has to hold them at a
distance for a time.  But where can one find the solitude necessary
to vigor, the deep breath in which the mind collects itself and
courage gauges its strength?  There remain big cities.

Albert Camus


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.

Kent Nerburn
Simple Truths


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solitude 2  -  solitude 3

Solitude is a way to defend the spirit against
the murderous din of our materialism.

Thomas Merton

Our equal and opposite needs for solitude and community constitute a great
paradox.  When it is torn apart, both of these life-giving states of being
degenerate into deathly specters of themselves.  Solitude split off from
community is no longer a rich and fulfilling experience of inwardness;
now it becomes loneliness, a terrible isolation.  Community split off from
solitude is no longer a nurturing network of relationships; now it becomes
a crowd, an alienating buzz of too many people and too much noise.

Parker J. Palmer
The Courage to Teach


The point of spending time in solitude is stripping
oneself bare to discover what is at one's essence.

Dawna Markova
I Will Not Die an Unlived Life

Attention is the gift of solitude.  Thrown back on my own resources,
deprived of the company of those I love, I learn to cherish my own
companionship.  As I discover my independence, I also discover my
interdependence.  I see the gentle and intricate dance of our
connection.  I perceive the steps I know and the steps I would like
to learn.  Making good use of my solitude for reflection, I connect
deeply to myself, thereby strengthening my capacity to connect with
others.  I also learn with clarity what it is I love and miss in my
companions.  Separation teaches both autonomy and connection.

Julia Cameron

Transitions:  Prayers and
Declarations for a Changing Life

There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance
within it a precarious business.  But I must not forget that, for me,
being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of
time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed,
scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over any
encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has
really happened to me as a consequence of it.

May Sarton
Journal of a Solitude


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Solitude, if rightly used, becomes not only a privilege but a
necessity.  Only a superficial soul fears to fraternize with itself.

Alice H. Rice

Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is
weakness.  The person who needs a mob to nerve him or her
is much more alone than he or she imagines.

Paul Brunton

From the spiritual side:

God gives us an irresistible desire for solitude.  It allows us to come
in touch with him.  We begin with a time and a place for God.  We are
freed from our slavery to the approval and gratitude of others and our
need to see ourselves as important.  After we meet God in the inner depths
of our soul, we see the world with a new light.  We can then enjoy our
regular activities in their proper perspective.  Silence will begin to speak
loudly and we will not be able to ignore the voice of God calling to us.
Activity and busyness often hide Godís voice, and if we do not leave
the hustle and bustle behind, we will have a difficult time hearing
him calling us along our lifeís journey.

Esther Carls Dodgen



Yes, life can be mysterious and confusing--but there's much of life that's actually rather dependable and reliable.  Some principles apply to life in so many different contexts that they can truly be called universal--and learning what they are and how to approach them and use them can teach us some of the most important lessons that we've ever learned.
My doctorate is in Teaching and Learning.  I use it a lot when I teach at school, but I also do my best to apply what I've learned to the life I'm living, and to observe how others live their lives.  What makes them happy or unhappy, stressed or peaceful, selfish or generous, compassionate or arrogant?  In this book, I've done my best to pass on to you what I've learned from people in my life, writers whose works I've read, and stories that I've heard.  Perhaps these principles can be a positive part of your life, too!
Universal Principles of Living Life Fully.  Awareness of these principles can explain a lot and take much of the frustration out of the lives we lead.



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