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On Solitude

We’ll muse on solitude today with scattered thoughts. By solitude we mean the state of living alone and a bit secluded from society. We prefer the Latin term to loneliness because it sounds less negative and more neutral to us.

Can solitude be a positive choice? In a world where singles are growing, it doesn’t seem such an absurd question. Well, one should first know if the majority of those who live without a partner (which doesn’t imply seclusion from society, of course) are willing singles or not.

In any case, and apart from singles who are a special case, what we see are people who can live a good or decent life alone, while others just can’t. It’s like there were a creative solitude and a destructive one. Another point is that some people seem capable of governing their solitude while others do not. Complicated (and interesting) topic, in any case.

The symbol of extreme solitude seems to me that of the hermit, of a person who confines himself to a hermitage. Nikos Kazantzakis went to visit various hermitages where monks lived alone and he noticed that some looked serene, while others instead were like destroyed by their loneliness. They were not human beings any more. They were like larvae. It was as if their brain had been digested by its own juices.

Well, solitude exerts its charm on us, no doubt. It could be an inclination, it could be the myth of self-sufficiency, the myth of the sage of antiquity who has everything he needs within himself, of the wise old man who has “like unsinkable goods in his soul that can float out of any shipwreck”, like Antisthenes said. According to Roman Seneca, a certain Stilpo, a philosopher, lost his family and all his goods and, when asked if he had suffered any harm, he replied: no, I haven’t.

Well, this strength seems inhuman to us and it is not by chance that in Antiquity such cases were cited as examples, and in any case belonged to a minority of supermen who were members of the upper classes.

So, even though we have chosen not to live alone, we are kind of fascinated by solitude and this is probably also why we are fond of Michel de Montaigne who in 1571 retired from public life to his lands living in the tower of his château which had a library with 1,500 books. There he wrote down all his musings, seeming to him that “the greatest favour I could do for my mind was to leave it in total idleness, caring for itself, concerned only with itself, calmly thinking of itself.”

So he let his mind dance and care for its dancing only, which can be a dangerous thing indeed. I think though he clearly perceived this danger, since in fact he wrote that our mind is like a garden, with thousands of different weeds that we have to subdue “with seeds specifically sown for our service”, for, “when the soul is without a definite aim she gets lost”: being everywhere is like being nowhere (I:8. On idleness).

In other words, I would add, a good aid in governing our solitude could surely be one or more projects, one or more goals. This is why people who retire and live in slack inertia die sooner (or become lunatics).

People around me say: « Je-sus, cut out this fable about solitude, will you for Chrissake? Aren’t love, affection and company always better than living alone? ».

Well, yes, of course, and yet … darn, what I’m sure about is that, in a city like Rome, where everybody is sociable, loners do not have a place in truth and are seen like weird birds. Even just eating alone in a restaurant makes you sometimes a freak. This doesn’t happen in Germany or in the UK.

Magister kept saying we need to fight against any anti-social impulse that we have in us. I can agree, but loads of things can be achieved only if we retire to our own shell: writing, reading, composing music, meditating etc. And these are things on whose positiveness everyone agrees.

Solitude however must be a free choice. If we are often alone because we are afraid of others, because of complexes or any possible feeling of inadequacy, this falls back within the ambit of those mentioned anti-social impulses we’ve got to fight against.

Cutting All Ties

Living alone can be furthermore associated with the idea of a departure from all, with the idea of cutting any tie we have. Here comes back the archetype of the sage, of the wise man who leaves family and friends in order to go on a spiritual journey. See Herman Hesse‘s Siddhartha; or Jesus’ disciples, whom he called to leave their families and follow him.

However, cutting all ties and going on our own can sometimes mean an escape from our problems and responsibilities. We leave in search of enlightenment though deep inside we are only running away from our obligations, from our fears and anxieties.

We decide to live hundreds of miles from home without thinking that, as Roman Horace put it, post equitem sedet atra cura, “behind the departing horseman sits black care.”

Montaigne refers that Socrates thus replied to a person who told him that a man had not been improved by travelling away: “I am sure he was not: he went with himself.”
(I:39 On Solitude – where we found inspiration and quotes, though our mind took different paths.)

Wherever we go, we cannot flee from ourselves. Only when we set our heart free from any burden or problem (or obligation) are we free to decide whether to live alone or not; whether to stay or to leave on a journey for a new life.

Selfishness and cowardice are always to be condemned.

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog, manofroma.wordpress.com, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

6 responses »

  1. You come back from vacation and write about solitude. I am intrigued. Welcome back though! :)

    Reply
  2. @Poonam
    Hello Poonam, thanks and glad you popped in! Well, during my vacation there was a time for company and a time for solitude, thence the idea of this post, which doesn’t imply I consider solitude the best lifestyle, just wanted to explore some aspects of it. :-)

    Reply
  3. “Can solitude be a positive choice? In a world where singles are growing, it doesn’t seem such an absurd question. Well, one should first know if the majority of those who live without a partner (which doesn’t imply seclusion from society, of course) are willing singles or not.”

    No one can judge if solitude is a positive or negative choice. It much depends on what you think/ decide the way you want to live. No matter people who prefer to be a single or to be a couple or just have a partner in their life, LIFE is yours, you can decide what way you want to be…

    “Well, yes, of course, and yet … darn, what I’m sure about is that, in a city like Rome, where everybody is sociable, loners do not have a place and are seen like weird birds, to tell you the truth. Even just eating alone in a restaurant makes you sometimes a freak. This doesn’t happen in Germany or in the UK.”

    Of course, as you said since your city’s people are all sociable, the group of loners would look like weird to other people who have company. Actually, those loners…mm…i should say if they care about what those people said, they are totally wrong, they (the loners) really think they are weird in this city. The loners’ thought seems affected by them. Being alone is not wrong, it is not wierd, as i said before, it much depends on what you think in your mind. If you think it’s weird to be a loner, i think you should find someone to accompany with. Pls remember people have right to choose what they want to be…no one can judge on other people who do not do something illegally. As a loner, you don’t need to care about what other people said. Be yourself.

    “However, cutting all ties and going on our own can sometimes mean an escape from our problems and responsibilities. We leave in search of enlightenment though deep inside we are only running away from our obligations, from our fears and anxieties.”

    I think MoR is talking about the THOUGHTS in human mind. I did hear about many real cases about people who left their families and friends to be a nun or monk in a temple forever….

    YES, you can say they are escape from problems and responsibilities, BUT did you ever think it is your own thought?

    Those people said those people who left famililes and friends were escape their responsibilities. Just don’t care about what they said. If you think it is really escaping from responsibilities, it means you care about what other people thought about you.

    They judge those people who escape from this and that, they judge their actions are wrong. Do these people have power to decide if other people do something good or bad?

    I can only say just do your best to ignore what people say. Be yourself. People have right to choose to be a single or to have a partner. People have their own will to decide the way they want. Except babies, who cannot decide until they grow up and become mature.

    Reply
  4. @AutumnSnow
    Sweet AutumnSnow, thank you for your comment and for being so affectionate to my blog, really!! :-)

    You are surely right when you say that it is not good, in our choices and actions, to let people influence us. Advice can be useful, but in the end one should do what he/she finally deems right to do, in full independence, no doubt.

    One should not mind about people frowning on us if we decide to live alone, to eat alone in a restaurant lol, or no matter what we think it is right to do.

    The only thing, when I was talking about ‘cutting all ties’ and going away (living alone is also a departure from others, to a certain extent,) what I have noticed during my life is that many people do it to escape from something, not as a real free and non influenced choice. I mean, it is a sort of escapism.

    In other words, it is not that some people take this decision of departing from all because they are influenced by others (they can be, but it is not my example,) but rather because they are influenced by a false idea within themselves that changing town or country will solve their problem(s). I believe it will not. If we are sick inside, our sickness will follow us. If we have moral obligations we are too weak to face, they will haunt us even more if we flee etc.

    This was my reasoning. Although it is fundamental what you said, that we must not be puppets in the hands of other people’s judgement.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Eluana, or Man’s Ultimate Freedom. Ending One’s Life. 2 « Man of Roma

  6. Pingback: Religious vs non-Religious. A Question of Character? INVICTUS « Man of Roma

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