“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre, French philosopher, playwright and novelist
“Here,” said Mom. “Take dad his coffee, but remember, don’t bother him.”
“I know,” I replied. “Let Father enjoy his morning coffee in peace.”
My father enjoyed getting up early and quietly sipping on a hot cup of coffee. In the warmer months, he would head outdoors and settle himself onto the first step of the porch. From there, he would survey his world – the farm – and make plans for the day. As a child, upon Mom’s prompting, I would occasionally take him a second cup of coffee. He would accept it without saying a word. Sometimes, I would also take him a copy of the Western Producer which he took as well without comment. I would come and go as quietly as possible.
When the morning was unusually cold or rainy, Father would spend those 10 or so minutes standing with coffee cup in hand, gazing out the kitchen window, seemingly lost in thought.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that my father cherished those few morning minutes for the solitude they provided. In my journey of self-esteem building, I’ve found a greater need for solitude. I need time alone with my thoughts – a quiet respite to figure things out.
Solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Perhaps the best explanation I’ve heard was that solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. Solitude is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude restores the mind and body while loneliness can quickly deplete it. As I’ve come to understand it, solitude is a time best used for reflection, self-assessment and maybe a little soul-searching. I usually make a little time for quiet meditation when I’m enjoying some solitude – it helps to clear the mind.
While loneliness is often marked by a state of separation, solitude can be defined as a form of internal connectedness which can often lead to insights, awareness and inspiration.
I have also discovered that solitude doesn’t always require being alone. I know that might sound odd, but I have enjoyed times of solitude while sitting on a park bench surrounded by the sound of children’s laughter. I have enjoyed a few moments of solitude while riding the LRT, even though the train is filled with other people. You can enjoy solitude while sitting with a loved one as when my wife is reading in a chair and I’m reading in another. Once I learned to quiet my mind, I was able to enjoy a type of inner peace, richness and rejuvenation despite what was going on around me.
“The more powerful and original a mind,” wrote Aldous Huxley, English novelist and philosopher, “the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”
We can all benefit from a little solitude from time to time though, temperamentally, the amount and type of solitude we need or will appreciate can differ quite dramatically. Solitude can provide us with a chance to do some exploration and, in the process, get to know ourselves a little better.
I remember reading once that solitude is a necessary counterpoint to intimacy, providing us with a “self” worthy of sharing. For certain, solitude can give us time to regain our perspective and adjust our outlook, if necessary. It can help us to overcome challenges we face in life. And if we’re hoping to gain understanding and bolster our self-esteem, it can help to put us behind the wheel of our lives, rather than letting others and the frantic pace of everyday living dictate our schedule and overly tax our time and energy.
This thought isn’t original to me, but I love its sentiment. “Have you noticed that the word listen contains the same letters as the word silent? To listen to ourselves, we must be silent.” If we’ll take the time to listen to our innermost thoughts, we’ll hear things we never imagined.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem columnist