Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle. He has worked seasonal jobs for a few years.
I love solitude. I can’t get enough. The world seems designed to pull you away from it. It won’t let you live in peace. It needs to drag you into the world of human chaos, problems, gossip, misunderstandings.
Perhaps this is as it should be – you have to experience the world completely to know it, and be tested by it. When you have to spend so much time in the world of chaos, however, it does make you appreciate, and treasure all the more, the moments of solitude that you do have.
When you’re younger, the world of people, friendships, identity, self-discovery – has a deep hold on you. You’re exploring, learning, discovering who you are, and how you fit in with the larger puzzle.
There was still a lot of solitude when you were young, but it wasn’t always desired, and felt like a lack of something.
As you get older, I find, the priorities are different. It has completely flipped, now it is rich in possibility – and the peace and quiet are what you crave. Time to listen to your heart, to your own thoughts, to let your imagination stretch out and roam. Turn off all the chatter of the world, to do the things you love: reading, writing, drawing, contemplating, creating – which are all solitary.
I’ve learned over time, that this is simply the way I’m wired. I could easily be a Buddhist monk, and spend weeks not speaking, writing poems, and wandering around a mountainside somewhere.
If you’re an introvert, then solitude will be natural for you. As I’ve gotten older, I feel I need the world of people less and less. Some people don’t understand this – perhaps they are extroverts by nature. “Don’t you need to talk to people? Won’t you be bored? Go crazy?”
The Old Poets of China by Mary Oliver
"Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist."
Not in the least. On the contrary, solitude is where I thrive, am at peace, feel most creative. Feel I’m learning, making use of abilities I may have, and accomplishing goals. (Though who knows, anyone might start to go a little crazy after a prolonged period of time without talking to another soul!).
Since I’m working full-time in customer service, which requires you to be an extrovert, I have to fit my solitude into weeknights and weekends.
It is there waiting for me – a magical oasis – at the end of the day, and week. It is a limited time in my week, and so all the more precious.
As a kid, when you’re alone a lot, you’re made to feel there’s something wrong with you. You don’t have friends, no one likes you, you’re weird, you’re different, maybe even you’re crazy. These are the messages the world gives you. Easy at that age, to internalize all the negative messages, and to believe that there’s something wrong with you.
Funny how, as an adult, the ability to be alone, comes to be seen as a real gift.
And you might actually feel sorry for the people who can’t be alone, and don’t know how. They can’t be alone for very long with their own thoughts.
It is a treasure to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-motivated. To enjoy having only yourself, and perhaps a good book, for company. Perhaps a few animals as well, who have no need to be constantly yammering and chattering away the whole time. All the better if you are at some remote location – in a cabin in a forest perhaps, alongside a river or lake, on a mountaintop, in some far-flung corner of the world.
The world of solitude brings me closer to the earth. It is where I come alive.
The world of people is pageantry, theater, façade.
Think of how important solitude has been for the world – for art and culture. All of the artists, writers, musicians, thinkers, philosophers, inventors, who have done their work in solitude. There is Thoreau on Walden Pond, Li Po on a mountainside in China, Emily Dickenson writing her poems, Kerouac on a mountain or traveling alone through America, Paul Theroux wandering the far corners of the planet, Gauguin painting in the South Pacific, Georgia O’Keefe painting flowers and cow skulls in the Southwestern desert. The Buddha meditating beneath the Bodhi tree.
The spiritual teachers who thrived off of time alone, to heal, meditate, write.
It is a fruitful space and time. If many of us had more solitude in our lives, there could only be positive results. More creativity, greater peace and self-understanding, less stress, more harmony and balance.
In solitude my needs are few, and I am all the happier for it. I’m looking forward to arranging my life so that I have even more solitude in the future. That vision of the future – like an oasis shimmering on the distant horizon – promising peace, creativity, deep contentment, and joy.