on solitude

solitude-1485I hope to find the title and author of this book I was reading while my husband was dying. I even read passages to him, whether he heard any of  the funny stories related to living or working in the woods, or not.

The author spent about four months in a “remote location in Oregon’s Rogue River Canyon, and quit civilization”. The following is an excerpt that spoke to my need for solitude in a way I never could explain:

January 22

It makes me smile, thinking about the 1960s here at my backwoods commune of one. I stayed briefly at a few communes in those years, declared and de facto, urban and rural. I never would have made it as a permanent resident. I’m too brittle, too jealous of my privacy. I need elbow room, mood room, and considerable quiet. I find, like Thoreau, that even the best company can soon become wearisome–not the persons themselves, but the ongoing need to converse, to respond, even to smile and laugh. I better appreciate, after nine weeks here, that to keep up a social face is an exertion for me. It’s often worthwhile, an exertion with rewards, but it does take energy that I can gain back only in solitude. There are those who feel most themselves in the company of others, and there are those who feel most themselves alone. no mystery about this boy.

Most of us need some measure of both, but in our culture we tend heavily toward human company. Anthony Storr, in Solitude: A Return to the Self, raises an interesting point. Overwhelmingly, mental health professionals measure good health as the ability to form and sustain meaningful relationships with others. Fair enough. But why isn’t it also measured as one’s ability to spend satisfying time alone? The ability to form and maintain a meaningful relationship with oneself?

A librarian helped me find the book mentioned above to be Rogue River Journal : A Winter Alone by John Daniel.

Then, there’s this TED talk on Introverts: http://on.ted.com/Cain

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53 thoughts on “on solitude

  1. I very much enjoyed reading this. I have a extremely people intensive job. I spend almost every moment when not at work alone enjoying nature. I much prefer the alone time and I don’t think that means I am mentally unhealthy. 🙂

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    • I wonder if those (often annoying) people-intensive jobs aren’t what creates this desire for the peace and quiet we find in nature. If you haven’t already done so, I would suggest you check out the link I posted at this page, a TED talk by Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet”. It helped to clarify these issues for me. I truly admire your photography and the subjects you choose.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. John Daniel sounds like a kindred spirit of mine. He speaks so eloquently of my own thoughts on the matter of Solitude.

    Must find & purchase his book.

    I remember reading once that you need to be with someone to find and share true Happiness. My best times of great Joy & Happiness have been in Solitude communing with Nature – it’s a great Healer & Companion. I always said the reason I never married was because I never found a man who knew how to be Silent.

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    • He touched something in my spirit, too. I was lucky enough to stumble onto his book at my library. I imagine that’s because he is considered a local writer… or at least local to our state.

      I think it would be sad if your happiness depended solely on some other person, though I must admit that there have been times when sharing a moment with someone can increase it… but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a Prince Charming from the fairy tales. 🙂

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  3. The Rogue River Journal is a good read. In North America, we are granted a luxury of alone time, incomprehensible in both most other Western and Eastern cultures. It gives one pause, the abundant gift of this solitude and isolation, out of which throughout recorded mystical history have arisen our greatest gifts. In our time and space there is such opportunity for devotion. And this heals everything. — The Healing Garden gardener

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    • True words. I think I would have a very hard time living amongst a mob. Then again, there are those like my hubby who thrived on being surrounded by others. So nice to have choices.

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  4. I ran into the word “eremite” today. I had to look it up because I didn’t know what it meant. It means hermit or religious recluse. A related word is: “eremophilia” which is ‘a love of solitude.’

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    • Interesting and somewhat esoteric words. I wouldn’t say I’d fall in either category, especially the religious one. I’m certainly no hermit or recluse. But I think the key phrase in the quote was: “There are those who feel most themselves in the company of others, and there are those who feel most themselves alone.” I think it’s also a matter of how we gain energy. I enjoy company, but it can drain me. On the other hand, my husband would be energized when socializing. If you need labels, introvert and extrovert are probably the ones that come closest to the different ways we interact. As for loving solitude. I get the sense that it excludes interacting with others which isn’t exactly right for me either.
      Thanks for the comment.

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  5. This is perfectly said and so speaks to me as well: “but it does take energy that I can gain back only in solitude. There are those who feel most themselves in the company of others, and there are those who feel most themselves alone” I too can only gain it back in solitude.

    And your question is profound, Gunta. I don’t know why no one measures one’s ability to be able to spend QUALITY time alone. Perhaps this is telling as to why SO many are on mood enhancers & anti-depressants.

    I’ve gone ahead and put this book on my Goodreads ‘to read’ list.

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    • I can’t take credit for that profound question since it was part of the quote. But it sure resonated strongly with me. BTW, I didn’t find the Storr book that was referenced in the quote as satisfying as the “Rogue River Journal : A Winter Alone” by John Daniel. The Storr is more technical psych stuff (the best part was probably the bit that was quoted), while the Daniel book is written in journal form as he spends months quite literally alone in the Oregon mountain wilderness. Good stuff!

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