“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I am reminded of one of the first blog posts I ever read. The gentleman who wrote it goes on to explain the difference between loneliness and solitude. His conclusion being that we are unable to tell the difference between the two.

So afraid we are of loneliness that we cannot find the simple joys in solitude.

I am unemployed though reasons I will not rant about now. While putting off finding a job, I have much more free time than I know what to do with. Much of this time I have spent in the company of myself and have come to realize how great a gift to myself my solitude is.

I went to the art gallery. Walked through the trees, admired the building, lay in the grass. I wandered to the adjacent park and watched the dogs tug their owners about, pleased for one of the few days of warm weather we’ve managed in this May of Buffalo.

I thought about things, and I thought about nothing. I relished the sun, the fresh air, the scent of growing things and life. I spoke not a word. For six hours I enjoyed the silence of my own voice.

Solitude has been a balm to soothe the wrongs that have befallen me recently. I didn’t realize just how lonely I had been for my own company.

To Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; I will say that yes, life is a monotonous affair. But it is not fear of freedom that forces people to run about like ants filling every spare minute. It is fear of loneliness that brings that need.

And to kjsquirrel, thank you for the thought.


3 thoughts on “Solitude

  1. I read this recently in the book “Resilience” by Eric Greitens: “In most religious traditions, insight comes after a journey of some kind. Moses and Jesus and Muhammad all walked the desert. All spent time in solitude and reflection before they returned to their work in the world. Their stories remind us that insight rarely comes without effort.”

    I think that this can in part be interpreted to mean that reflecting in solitude is often difficult, but also one of the only conditions in which we can have meaningful insights. So it’s important to engage in. I think that in an indirect sense, this is also the “freedom” that Goethe is talking about. The fear of freedom is different from the fear of loneliness, obviously. Someone can fill up their free time with distractions all by themselves. Some people prefer that. And definitely people are often seeking distraction to avoid loneliness, but I think Goethe is referring to a more metaphysical fear.

    I think what Goethe means is that, when people have everything they need to be alive, and then there is time and resources left at their disposal and discretion…then in those moments people have the opportunity to truly take agency of their own lives. You can do whatever you want with yourself, work to make yourself into something of your own choosing, and create circumstances in the world that you decided on. Basically, in those moments people have the opportunity to exercise a higher level of free will. Which sounds great, except that it is intrinsically accompanied by a likewise higher level of responsibility.

    Some people are lucky enough that they just always knew what they wanted to do, who they wanted to be, and the change they wanted to make in the world. For MOST of us, trying to figure that all out feels like pulling our own teeth out. You’re admitting to a void in your soul, and no one is telling you what shape it is. So I think most people just want to avoid that pain to begin with, by filling up their time with inanity and then telling themselves that they just “Don’t have the time.”

    It gets even better though. (read that as sarcasm, mostly). If you figure out what you want to do, who you want to be and the change you want to make, then you’ve instantaneously created a potentially lifelong benchmark for yourself. Simply surviving and doing what you’re told is no longer good enough. You’ve defined the new void in your soul and again, nobody is telling you how to fill it, but if you don’t then you’re going to know it. You’re going to feel it. Feeling like you’ve obliged yourself to even larger goals than eating, sleeping and defecating is just another thing I think that most people are trying to avoid.

    Then after all of that, you figured out what you want, you have an idea of what you have to do to achieve it, and you put yourself out there and you try…it could all go wrong. And in this case, because the pursuit was entirely your own, the failure is also entirely your own. People in this case might tell themselves that there were obstacles in the way, that prevented their success, but the possibility will always be there somewhere in their minds: “Maybe I just didn’t overcome the obstacles.” Perhaps a goal that is never given up on can always be achieved eventually, I’m not sure, but the prospect of feeling broken and alone in the pursuit of your dreams is just another prospective pain that I think people are instinctively trying to avoid, when they fill their free time with distraction instead of pursuing self-actualization.

    All of that put together… I think that is what Goethe is suggesting that people fear about freedom.


  2. What an interesting and timely post. As this topic is something I’ve been thinking about of late. My initial thought is about fear. We are such fearful creatures. We are afraid of failure, we are afraid of success. We are afraid of meaning too little or meaning too much. And while I have many thoughts on the pursuit of balance that is not my point today.

    The insidious thing is that fear holds us back. It creates an environment in your mind where reality ceases to be relevant. And this feeling, blossoms, it feeds on itself and grows like a metaphysical cancer until it is the only thing one can see. The travesty is that fear, this specific kind of fear, is completely impotent. Now there are healthy and good fears. Fear of bears, fear of heights, fear of public restrooms. All of those things need to be viewed with caution and attention. Which is how fear is supposed to work. The kind of fear we are discussing here is fear of the unknown. We often view failure as a negative consequence. Something to be avoided at all costs. We need to learn to fail and be comfortable with the fall out. Failing is about learning. Failing is NOT representative of your self worth. That I believe is the mistake most make. Your self worth is intrinsic to your soul. Each and every one of us is unique, and the individual gifts we have to offer each other is what creates the worth and value we so seek. This is the epiphany I was gifted with many years ago while pursing an extended period of solitude.

    Fear of change is just another facet of this kind of fear. Most experience comfort in their routines. Going through our day knowing what to expect gives us the time and energy to focus on ways to add excellence to our endeavors, or the time to dream of more enjoyable pursuits. When things change, especially when they change without our consent, the change in direction can be harsh. The void yawns before us. And we are confronted not only by the reality of our financial fragility but the unfilled hours can seem relentless when worrying about our future.

    Use the time wisely. It’s easy to become paralyzed by the fear. However, as our fellow blogger has discovered, the time is a gift. And while, she has not chosen it, she can still use it well. Solitude and the enjoyment of it is one of life’s richest pleasures. I agree, too few have the patience to learn how to experience its particular joy. I think we all feel we “lack” something important. We want to be thinner, smarter, richer, funnier. And when we are alone there is nothing to distract us from that black hole of lack. But if we are courageous and daring and step out into that void I think we will learn that we are enough, as we are. We learn to stop judging our life by others parameters.

    Choose to live to the authentic beat of your own heart and there is no downside. Others judgments no longer matter because you are validated by something honest and true.


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