Both Anthony Grey, who was imprisoned in China, and Arthur Koestler, who was imprisoned in Spain, spent time in solitary confinement. Both were glad they didn’t have to share a cell, according to Koestler (in Kaleidoscope), and both said solitary led to more appreciation of other people and of normal life. They got in touch with a higher order of reality. Koestler expressed “a feeling of inner freedom, of being… confronted with ultimate realities instead of your bank statement […]You have a dialogue with existence. A dialogue with life. A dialogue with death.”
I enjoy being with people I feel close to, but I often itch to do something alone, like playing the piano, drawing a picture, working in the garden, doing some writing, or turning the pages of a book. When I was a child, my family had no TV and I was mainly left to my own devices. I had sufficient solitude in which to form a relationship with my inner self and develop interests that were meaningful to me. Most of us introverts are good friends to ourselves.
In Frank Bruno’s column in the NY Times (6-10-14), “A Quiet Cheer for Solitude,” he talks about watching Hillary Clinton race around promoting her new book, engaging in what, for him, would be too much talk, listening, mingling, and moving. Bruno advises politicians to retreat. “Take more time away. Spend more time alone. Trade the speechifying for solitude, which no longer gets anything close to the veneration it’s due, not just in politics but across many walks of life.”
I agree. I am not interested in watching politicians try to entertain us. But for many of them, Bruno continues, “shaking hands trumps reading books, mulling problems, probing one’s soul. Is it any wonder that our rulers as a class, and we as a country, are bereft of big ideas?
“It’s in solitude that much of the sharpest thinking is done and many of the best ideas are hatched. We know this intuitively and from experience, yet solitude is often cast as an archaic luxury and indulgent oddity, inferior to a spirited discussion and certainly to a leadership conference. The modern world has utterly fetishized it, as if enlightenment required a hotel ballroom, a platter of stale pastries and a gift tote.”
According to Bruno, some of the boldest strikes of lightning happen in isolation. I need to work alone if I am to accomplish anything at all worthwhile. Most artists and writers prefer to work alone so they can draw, paint, sculpt, or write from their heart, that place of flow where the unconscious plays freely. Once I had a commission to illustrate a book someone else had written. The author of the book would take my drawings and turn her women’s group loose on them, then report back to me on the changes they wanted. I experienced this attempt at art by committee as a form of torture. The good part was that it forced me to make and enforce some necessary boundaries. And, like Koestler, it renewed my appreciation of the feeling of inner freedom we can experience in solitude.
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