Retreating To Self Through Solitude

Humans are believed to be social animals. However, this quality initially developed more from necessity than choice, as people needed each other’s support to survive. We live in a hyper-connected world, in which we communicate constantly over the internet or phone. 

We have become so obsessed that we check our text messages, emails hundreds of times a day; we fanatically thumb through Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We crave constant companionship and acknowledgement, and when they are not up to our satisfaction we feel hurt. We find our worth in other’s affirmation, which many times lead to stress and feeling lonelier. We are so connected fictionally that the justification for the individual’s existence has become synonymous to the existence of others.

Movies and advertisements set unrealistic expectations of relationships, which becomes impossible to achieve and leads to further disappointment. My purpose here is not to claim that relationships are necessarily bad but to remind that man is not born for relationships alone. Moreover it needs to be accepted that no relationship is ever perfect, we need other sources of fulfilment as well. 

Many religions and cultures talk about the benefit of contemplation and solitude such as Sufism which requires that the inner experiences to be coordinated with correct social interaction. Our fear of solitude makes us so dependent on others, that we become overly compliant out of a fear of abandonment. We consequently build up what Donald Winnicott (paediatrician and psychoanalyst) called a “False Self” that is our personality becomes a mere shadow of how we believe others want us to be. To keep our social life popular we go out of our way to show concern for others. We must realise that it is in developing the capacity to be alone that this “false self” can be broken down, so that we understand our authentic feelings and needs. If we possess inner solitude we do not fear being alone, for we know that we have to maintain a commitment to the self before we make commitments to others.

There are many great scholars who acknowledged the significance of solitude including Allama Iqbal, Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Anthony Storr among others. Iqbal has particularly put great emphasis on individuality, for him to understand God we must understand our-selves first. Hannah Arendt on the other hand reminds us, that if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our ability to think. The self, Arendt profess, “is the only one from whom you can never get away except by ceasing to think.”

Storr notes that how a person feels about himself on his own is as important as what happens in his interactions with other people. He further declares that two opposing drives operate human life: the drive for companionship or love, which brings us close to our fellow human being; and the drive towards being independent and autonomous. Therefore it’s significant to balance between the two. 

As human beings we also need interests which we can enjoy with ourselves such as in our beliefs, our leisure activities and in our work. Therefore we must set aside some period of our time for ourselves when we can contemplate the suppressed areas of our personality to let them come to the surface. Throughout his book, Solitude: A Return to the Self, Storr noted that the happiest lives are probably those in which neither social relationships nor personal interests are idealized as the only way to salvation. The desire and pursuit of the whole must realize both aspects of human nature.

I would also like emphasize that by solitude I mean something more than just isolation in the geographical sense. Solitude is not the same as isolation. Generally, “isolation” is referred to a state of loneliness in contract; “solitude” is giving some time for introspection. In solitude we experience a sort of spirituality and understanding “that life itself is the meaning of life, and a knowing that I am a part of everything around me,” says Angela Patnode (columnist). Furthermore, practicing silence gives one control over emotions, especially anger. I would like to end with a famous excerpt from Iqbal’s poem: “Khudi Mein Doobja Ghafil Ye Sir-I-Zindgani Hay (Dive into your own self, it is the very secret of life).”                                  




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