Ah, solitude…What does it make you think about? What images are conjured in your mind? What does the word ‘solitude’ remind you of? I for one am one to admit that I used to associate the word ‘solitude’ with loneliness. With the idea of being alone with no one around who cares. This can mean anything from being a little bored or lonely by one’s self or being in utter anomie: no family, no job, no home, on the streets. Thankfully I never experienced this and I intend to keep it that way.
Solitude and loneliness is like the age old analogy of the square and the rectangle – a square is both, but the rectangle is not a square. In this case, a rectangle would represent loneliness, and the square would represent solitude. In fact, it’s a broken analogy because solitude does not have to be loneliness simultaneously coexisting as the healthy state of mind that it really is.
Because solitude, in my mind, is the healthy state of contemplation in a quiet place.
This is all it is. It is not only a potentially enjoyable experience, it is also very necessary for the evolution of one’s life and mental happiness, and even maturity. Many people these days -thanks to individuals such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg and other technological pioneers – have unintentionally sabatoged the concept of solitude and quiet contemplation. Like my fiction professor at Sac State said multiple times, i-phones and smart phones in general are distractions that get in the way of real experience, and of course, this especially irks him because he is a novelist. Artists should not be distracted from the solitary concentrated state of mind that they cultivate to write great literature.
I mean, I must admit, he has a great point. He has made it clear that this philosophy should extend to all human beings and that people will turn into machines if they remain glued to their hand-held machines. I have an i-phone, and I enjoy using it, but with moderation, just like with fast food, gossip, and any other “vice”, these devices can be great tools. But Steve jobs and Mark Zuckerburg, despite them being smart individuals, probably did not foresee the amount of takeover, the degree of colonization of the consciousness that has occurred over the past decade with the advent of hand-hald devices and social media. It is quite scary to think about, actually. One could even say – and one of my dear friends already said it – that Isaac Asimov’s prediction has come true: that robots are indeed starting to take over the world. But in a more insidious, invisible way.
This is why we must remind ourselves, now more than ever, that cultivating solitude in our lives – a solitude free from distraction or “connection” with our friends – is all the more important in our lives today in the second decade of the 21st century., We must, I think, do our utmost to refrain from being too distracted just to, at the very least, keep our human sanity, collectively and individually.
Because solitude is like sleep: it heals the brain on a molecular level. Meditation is similar in that it creates a quiet atmosphere for your brain to heal itself. Being by yourself, whether virtually or physically, is not a bad thing because even as social animals we all need a little comfort, shelter, respite. Without that, we are shelterless, like a homeless person, with nothing to protect us from the elements. These elements that i speak of, naturally, are metaphorical representations of the mind’s defects, created from too much time spent on focusing on being “connected”.
I played basketball with a Vietnamese-American at Sacramento State’s gym once. He is now something like 34 years old. He is old enough to remember the Y2K, the advent of hip-hop in urban America, and of a time when smart phones didn’t exist. Can you imagine?! A time when the status-quo meant no cellular technology or social media? I can barely remember that time. Anyways, we somehow got to talking, and he was saying how kids used to act up by having their pants too low or by climbing a tree too high up and not being able to get down, or by throwing wood chips at each other’s friends. He said that that was nothing compared to how kids act up these days – and he did an impersonation of a person looking down at their phone while walking on the street.
“Kids these days are not playing outside anymore. Becasue they vthink they’re already connected with their friends and have no reason to go to gtheir house and play. It’s complete connection, but ultimate isolation”. This particular sentence struck me the most: Complete connection but ultimate isolation. It makes sense though. You’re still by yourself even though by means of virtual signals you can still talk.
By the sea, one can potentially develop spiritual tendencies. How is that even possible if you are on Facebook by the sea? (If you can find reception).
How do you think all of the greatest religions and arts of the world were even developed if not for the natural gift of solitude? Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed, and Zoroaster would have never even dreamed of those monotheistic philosophies if they couldn’t have the means to develop a strong sense of self in their solitary caves. And the alleged founder of the great Chinese martial art, Tai Chi Chuan? Never in a million years would that intricate and brilliant system ever even be conceived if Zheng San Feng was distracted by anxiety of being alone. He was a Taoist monk who thrived on being alone, discovering just by empirical observation alone, the secrets of the universe. (Which I realize, sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. But if you tried to explain to him the workings of a microprocessor and a lithium based SD card, he would probably believe you).
So go down to the river and think about water. And love that river. But don’t drink from it. Just enjoy the sound of the water, like your thoughts, passing by. And I also realize that, especially in this digital age, it is quite difficult to get used to being by yourself. It’ll take practice, to re-program the brain into being comfortable with solitude. Pereverence never did any harm though, in any virtuous practice.