Friday, November 6, 2009
Loneliness and Solitude
As a writer, I spend much of each day sitting by myself in front of my computer. Sometimes, I enjoy being alone and sometimes I don't. When we are alone there are two possibilities: we can feel lonely or we can enjoy solitude.
Loneliness and solitude are such different spiritual states that I consider them polar opposites. So,what's the difference? Loneliness is anxious and painful—it is a type of suffering of a wounded soul. Henri Nouwen wrote eloquently about the pain of loneliness, “[It is] that strange inner gnawing, that mental hunger, that unsettling unrest that makes us say, ‘I feel lonely.’ “
However, solitude is a contented aloneness. Solitude is peaceful and even joyful. Nouwen argued that a key movement of the spiritual life is from loneliness to solitude. Solitude is the “rest” that St. Augustine was pointing to when he wrote, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord."
Even though I associate solitude with certain places where I am alone, the most important solitude is an inner spiritual state that we can carry with us wherever we go. To cultivate this inner solitude I find it necessary to withdraw from the busyness of daily life from time to time. However, withdrawing by itself will not create solitude-- solitude is the byproduct of a soul at peace with itself.