The Joys of Solitude

In an insightful article in “The Guardian” (UK), Phil Daoust explored his own experience of “the joys of solitude”.
“You don’t get many casual visitors where I live. Home is down a dirt track, three kilometres from the ¬nearest village. The ¬neighbours are five ¬minutes’ walk away, and when the woods are in leaf you can’t see another building. By day you may hear a chainsaw in the distance; by night only the deer barking. I’m on my own here, if you don’t count the cat, and right now it’s a week since I saw another human.
But it’s a beautiful spot, in a lovely bit of France, and every now and again a rambler will find his way to it. If I’m outside, and don’t have time to hide, his first remark will usually be: “This is a little bit of heaven.”
I’ll feel a little bashful, as if I somehow shaped this world with my own talented hands, and then he’ll say: “Mind you, I could never live here.”
After seven years of this, I no longer ask why. Most people, it is clear, are happy to spend a few hours far from the crowds, but the thought of days or weeks like this fills them with dread. They’d be afraid, they say. They wouldn’t be able to sleep. Most of all, they’d be lonely.
Now, I’m not an anchorite. I do have a car, a landline, an internet connection. Neighbours come for dinner, my daughter visits for long weekends, and in school holidays friends arrive with their kids. But when I explain this, it doesn’t cut any ice. Poor sod, I see ¬people thinking. He lives on his own. In this emptiness!
You know what, though? It can be marvellous. For some of us, as Anneli Rufus puts it, solitude is “just what we need, the way tuna need the sea. Here we are, not sad, not lonely, having the time of our lives.”…

Are people uncomfortable with solitude because they so rarely experience it, or do they so rarely experience it ¬because they are uncomfortable with it? What is clear is that most of us persist in equating aloneness with loneliness, and company with companionship, despite a lifetime of evidence to the contrary. “We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers,” is how Henry David Thoreau put it after two years as the sole inhabitant of a house he had built in the Massachusetts woods. You’re never more alone than when you’re in a crowd. A cliche, perhaps, but most of us recognise the truth in it.
Before moving to the back of beyond, I spent almost 40 years ¬surrounded by people, first as one of five children, then in shared houses, and finally in a succession of London flats. I had girlfriends, a daughter, flatmates, people to the left of me, people to the right of me, people in front, behind and, in the more pleasant moments, under or on top of me. I sometimes feel unloved now, but I sometimes felt unloved then. Doesn’t everyone?…

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken. Every now and again, the need to scratch out a living forces me out of my lair. “A week in London,” I tell myself. “I can do that standing on my head.” And, to tell the truth, I can. I enjoy the chance to catch up with people. Like many loners, I don’t have that many friends, but the ones I do have, I value. I talk with them, eat with them, drink with them – all those things normal people do. Still, whenever I return home, it’s with relief that I shut the door on the world. It’s a fantastic place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”


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