Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

The Value of Solitude

--by William Deresiewicz (May 16, 2016)

Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn't call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn't always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn't always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.

And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing "in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures," "bait[ing our] hooks with darkness." Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world — that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. This is not reading as Marilynne Robinson described it: the encounter with a second self in the silence of mental solitude.

But we no longer believe in the solitary mind. If the Romantics had Hume and the modernists had Freud, the current psychological model — and this should come as no surprise — is that of the networked or social mind. Evolutionary psychology tells us that our brains developed to interpret complex social signals. According to David Brooks, that reliable index of the social-scientific zeitgeist, cognitive scientists tell us that "our decision-making is powerfully influenced by social context"; neuroscientists, that we have "permeable minds" that function in part through a process of "deep imitation"; psychologists, that "we are organized by our attachments"; sociologists, that our behavior is affected by "the power of social networks." The ultimate implication is that there is no mental space that is not social (contemporary social science dovetailing here with postmodern critical theory). One of the most striking things about the way young people relate to one another today is that they no longer seem to believe in the existence of Thoreau's "darkness." [...]

Today's young people seem to feel that they can make themselves fully known to one another. They seem to lack a sense of their own depths, and of the value of keeping them hidden.

If they didn't, they would understand that solitude enables us to secure the integrity of the self as well as to explore it.

Excerpted from William Deresiewicz's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: The End of Solitude.

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On May 14, 2016 david doane wrote:

I think there is a lot of truth in Pascal's statement that "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."  Alone is a basic condition of being human.  We can run from it, but ultimately we are each alone, even while we are in community.  I can be alone in solitude, which I think is important because it's time with myself to be quiet, reflect, regroup, and get to know me better.  As the author said, solitude enables us to secure the integrity of the self as well as to explore it.  I take at least an hour and a half alone almost every morning to exercise, meditate, maybe read or write a little, and I love that time -- it's nourishing for me.  I can also enjoy community where relationship, different perspectives, agreement and disagreement are available.  I have a need for both solitude and community, though my need for community seems less than my need for solitude.  Solitude-community is one of those dialectics we live in the tension of.  After enough solitude I gravitate toward community, and after a dose of community I move back to solitude.  Solitude and community stimulate one another and I grow in the back and forth. 

On May 14, 2016 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 When I sit still and mindfully explore my inner land- scape of bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings compassionately, I deeply feel connected with me. I just got a call from my client who is feeling very lonely, bored and depressed.I asked her to do mindfulness meditation with me on the phone.In the beginning it was difficult for her to let the bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings come and go.She started feeling close and more connected with herself and with me too.A bridge of empathy, compassion, authenticity and connectedness was being built from a long distance call. It was a short session on the phone but it was very effective.I felt pretty good for being with her when she needed my help and she expressed her gratitude for being for helping her.

So we need solitude, stillness, for nurturing ourselves and also for nurturing others in our life. I use technology wisely and I am teaching my grand children to use social media wisely. Slowly and steadily they are getting the message and I am not in hurry.

May we cultivate kindness and compassion for ourselves and others to learn how to be still in the midst of ongoing noise within and without us.


Jagdish P Dave

On May 17, 2016 Wanda wrote:

I crave solitude each day, especially when I am hurt or challenged by something.  It provides a safe haven for me to wrestle with issues and come to some resolution.  I am able to retreat to this solitary place for introspection and reflection which I so desperately need during these times.  It isn't lonely at all, just reassuring and peaceful.  After spending this time with a cup of tea, Telemann and Vivaldi, I am good to go! 

On May 17, 2016 sara k hatch wrote:

 My husband has Parkinson's Disease. I am his only caregiver at this point. I need my solitude in the mornings before he gets us to renew myself and be able to face the day. I limit my time with other people especially ones who are negative. The energy it takes to be a caretaker is breathtaking especially the emotional toll it drains from me. The morning solitude is a must.

On May 17, 2016 Matt perry wrote:

 I find lack that spending no time alone - even if I am meditating to slowly produce a lot of unwanted noise in my body and I can become irritable, a simple walk in nature is often all it takes to enable me to loose the shackles of claustrophobia but real time alone away from all and in silence is a blessing that can re-charge my soul. 

On May 18, 2016 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Solitude has become more important in my life as I age. I seem to crave it more than ever. Perhaps this is also due to how interconnected we've become through technology; we are seemingly never alone with text messages buzzing at all hours, Facebook messages or notifications popping up and as the writer said, we can connect in ways like never before and yet so many feel so alone and disconnected. Solitude for me is in the mornings when I wake and sip my tea, crunch through an apple and just sit and look out the window. I feel fortunate that most days I really enjoy my own company and over the last 15 years have chosen to do many activities solo. True I meet people along the way and I enjoy meandering through a village or city on my own taking in the sights and sounds at my own pace. I am also an extrovert so need face to face with people too, and I admit Facebook has at times been a life saver when I am in depression and perhaps not as able to reach out in person. The balance of solitude and community in my life is to be sure to have quiet time each day to myself and then at least 3 times a week to go out and do something with friends; even if that doing is simply sitting together. HUGS from my heart to yours and here's to solitude!

On May 21, 2016 Me wrote:

 I hear you.  

On May 21, 2016 Amy wrote:


On May 21, 2016 aj wrote:


On May 22, 2016 Virginia wrote:

 For those who find being alone difficult, start with creating an escape room in your mind, a quiet place to retreat to now and then.  Use whatever stimuli you wish - or nothing at all.  From there it may be easier to enjoy true solitude.  Like others, I need my own time and space to feel centered. 

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