“By my intimacy with nature, I find myself withdrawn from man.
My interest in the sun and the moon, in the morning and the evening,
compels me to solitude.” – Henry David Thoreau

I came upon a collection of poems titled “Poems about Loneliness and Solitude.” My first thought was that they shouldn’t be combined – or confused.

Poets aren’t the only people who sometimes crave solitude. I find the solitude of isolation to be a good thing occasionally and I pursue it. Loneliness is not something I pursue, but sometimes it finds me.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton


the state of being alone,
by oneself;
a deserted place,
aloneness but not loneliness
which is a feeling of depression
from being alone
without companions.
a place or time devoid
of human activity.
And then there is
that obsolete meaning:
A desire to be alone;
a disposition to solitude.
Not obsolete to me.

Speaking of Solitude

I don’t know what we will call this time one day – the Time of the Virus, The Coronavirus Pandemic, COVID-19 2020? It is a time of sheltering at home, being locked down, a time if not being alone, it is a time of solitude. Streets and stores and schools are empty.

The dictionary says that solitude is the state or situation of being alone, but the word has always seemed to mean something more than just being alone. I can’t define it, so I look to what others have said about it.

solitude tree swing

“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”
― Albert Einstein

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
— Gabriel , the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
― Honoré de Balzac

“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”
― Patricia Highsmith

“Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve.”
― Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

“being alone never felt right. sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right.”
― Charles Bukowski

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”
― Audrey Hepburn

“The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”
― Aldous Huxley

Solitude stands in the doorway
And I’m struck once again by her black silhouette
By her long cool stare and her silence
I suddenly remember each time we’ve met
— Suzanne Vega, “Solitude Standing”

“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company,  even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”― Albert Camus

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”
― Aristotle

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
― May Sarton

How do you define solitude?

Social Distancing and Emotional Distancing

Social Distancing: Remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible – Center for Disease Control


With many of us “sheltering at home” die to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, “weekends” in Paradelle have become every day in Paradelle.

I saw an article online that discusses the social distancing that the CDC is asking that all of us do for our own protection, and how that differs from emotional distancing.

Though social distancing is a prudent measure to take, it may result in becoming emotionally distanced from friends, family and the larger world.

Emotional distancing can occur at any time. No pandemic required. It is when we isolate ourselves emotionally because we are overwhelmed by demands in a relationship or other stresses. It can cause depression or be the result of depression.

These are overwhelming times and forced isolation might trigger emotions from boredom to loneliness to depression.

The old adage is that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but absence is not the best way to make our fondness and love grow.

Not to be a substitute for real-world connections or professional help, the article suggests a few ways to avoid emotional distancing during these times of social distancing.

One of those suggestions is staying virtually connected. Since you’re reading this online, you probably are doing this already. Of course, virtual is not the same as face-to-face connections, but sometimes it is the only practical way to stay connected. Many people are more frequently connected to others via text, email, phone call or video call. I’m guessing that all of that has increased in the past month globally.

For all the negatives about social media, places like Facebook can provide a connection over distances and many of the posts I am seeing are being deliberately kind, hopeful, funny and optimistic. There’s enough of the opposite in the mainstream media that we don’t need to duplicate it ourselves.

This is a good time to connect with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a few months and relatives (especially elderly one and those at risk medically).

Get outside and feel the sunlight, even if your balcony or backyard is as far as you dare to venture.

Just Another Existential Crisis

I haven’t heard the term  “existential crisis” used lately. I don’t think that is because they don’t occur any more. I suspect they occur more today than they did in earlier times.

An existential crisis is defined as a moment that an individual questions the meaning of life.

Despite having no proof to point to, I believe this questioning is as old as mankind.

Existentialism was a term that come into being in the late 19th- and 20th-century via a group of diverse European philosophers. It may seem odd that this “crisis” is attached to philosophical thinking whose predominant value is commonly acknowledged to be freedom.

Søren Kierkegaard is generally considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher, though he did not use the term existentialism. He proposed that each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it “authentically.”

I came to know the term in my teen years through literature. Reading books by Jean-Paul Sartre (such as Nausea) and works by Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, T.S. Eliot and Herman Hesse, and then reading about them, existentialism kept being referenced.

I started to see it in many things I was reading. That “crazy cliff” that Holden Caulfield wanted to save people from falling off by being a “catcher in the rye” seemed existential to me. I started to see my own life that way. I can’t imagine getting through your teen years without an existential crisis.

Existentialism came into popular use after World War II in philosophy but also in theology, drama, art, literature, and psychology.

I’m sure that when I learned about an existential crisis I thought I was going through one. Mental health hypochondria is pretty common.

An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life. Does life have any meaning, purpose, or value? It is commonly wrapped up in anxiety and depression.

I have a vivid memory of seeing the film The Graduate for the first time and then again in college and when Ben was floating in his parents’ pool and feeling of a lack of purpose in life, I was floating right there with him.

But a true existential crisis is big. Questioning Life means questioning relationships, decisions, and your motivations. It is an illness. A serious one.

Currently I hear the term being used on more temporary states of mind. I did some searching online and found it in an article about spending too much time on social media. It was referenced in an article about suddenly not wanting to spend time with people and wanting to be alone. I found in searching this blog that I have used “existential” in several posts.

If an existential crisis is really a moment that an individual questions the meaning of life, it doesn’t seem like ending a relationship qualifies. Or does it?

An article that I read but won’t link to suggested that some warning signs of the crisis include drinking lots of coffee and using alcohol and cigarettes as a crutch and solution instead of coffee.

Very few of us have not felt a lack of motivation, unable to be productive to the point of depression. Mental fatigue can transform into physical fatigue, which drags you down further.

Is that an existential crisis?

Or is when it when you start to think about death, talk about death and live in the shadow of death?

When I went through a bad depression (which I and my therapist never called an existential crisis) one of the signs was that I began to cry easily for not very “valid” reasons. Movies, abandoned dogs on the drive to work, leaves falling from trees, a sad-looking woman drinking coffee at a nearby table, seeing homeless people or just sitting in the car at a red light would start me off.

Obviously, someone in a real crisis needs professional help and the support of those around them. I found that one treatment known as existential-humanistic focuses on your personalized concerns for your future. It is an approach that asks about the meaning of life.

I have probably written more about solitude than loneliness and I now view solitude – that choice to be alone – as a gift.

We all have our “dark nights of the soul” but when the night carries in the daylight and for more days and nights, I think it is a crisis.

I titled this piece “Just Another Existential Crisis” not because I trivialize the term, but ironically because I think we too often toss off depressions of other people and ourselves too lightly.

When I taught Romeo and Juliet to middle school students I became very sensitive to teen suicide. Of course, I didn’t want the play to be seen as saying that suicide was a solution, but in my research I found that it is very dangerous to not take seriously teen crises. As an adult, it is easy to dismiss the end of a seventh grader’s romantic relationship that lasted only two weeks as not being anything serious. That is a mistake. It is the same mistake that the Capulets and Montagues made. Call it existential or not, a crisis is real.

Holden Caulfield may have remembered the Robert Burns poem incorrectly, but his wish to save others in the midst of his own crisis was correct.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
– from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye

Loneliness and Solitude


Solitude is not loneliness. Though both might be defined as that internal feeling that comes from a lack of companionship, solitude is usually a choice and may have positive benefits, while loneliness is viewed as negative and usually not a choice.

I wrote yesterday about a kind of solitude beside a pond that appears in writing as both negative and positive. Solitude can be fertile and a way to boost our creative capacity. Loneliness is empty and destructive.

Thoreau, a transcendentalist beside Walden Pond, might have viewed loneliness as a kind of depression, melancholy, or a restlessness of the soul.

Olivia Laing explores in her book, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, the loneliness of being in a populated place like a  city – or being alone in a crowd.


Laing also wrote a book that talks about that beside-the-water solitude: To the River, In that more Walden-ish book, she walked from source to sea along the Ouse River where 60 years before Virginia Woolf had drowned herself. But that’s just one small bit of that Sussex river’s history.

And in another of her books (which I have not read yet), The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, I suspect solitude and loneliness both have a place.

But her discussion of this city loneliness and some of her word images, such as someone standing by a window alone at night high above the city street and people, made me think of many paintings by Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper’s now overexposed and often parodied Nighthawks is a painting I thought of before Laing even brought it into her discussion, where she says:

There is no colour in existence that so powerfully communicates urban alienation, the atomisation of human beings inside the edifices they create, as this noxious pallid green, which only came into being with the advent of electricity, and which is inextricably associated with the nocturnal city, the city of glass towers, of empty illuminated offices and neon signs.

That diner is a sealed chamber,”an urban aquarium, a glass cell.” Laing makes the psychological physical.

What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.

Laing feels that true loneliness,is “an especially American trait (or privilege, or curse, depending on who you are)”, and one that may be best described not by words but through art. That’s an idea also found in “Loneliness Belongs to the Photographer” by Hanya Yanagihara.

“At the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

And that river talk makes me think of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” his novella (made into a movie too – but read the novella). I find some hopeful comfort in this retired English professor who at 70 was still “haunted by waters” and wrote this small classic.

The novella is usually collected with a few other stories and together they cover his beloved fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, a brother and a father. It has sold more than a million copies, so it connects with something in many people.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”  – Norman Maclean

Solitude, Silence, Stillness

Impressionistic field

Do you like to be alone? Being alone can mean feeling lonely, but it can also mean solitude and that is something many people enjoy, seek and often can’t find.

Maria Popova writes:

“The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds — even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway’s famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition.”

Solitude often conjures up a vision of a mountain retreat or perhaps a wide, empty island beach, but it can be found in almost any place.  It can be found in an empty room that is quiet and somewhat isolated.

I like the word “reverie” which means a state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts. Daydreaming works best when you’re alone.

For myself, I prefer to be alone out in nature which seems to deepen consciousness of yourself. I’ve written enough here about being attuned to nature. You can read your Thoreau or Abbey if you need more information about developing a deeper relationship with the transcendent, the numinous, the divine and the spiritual. Also, I associate being out in nature with increased creativity and an increased sense of freedom.

But I know that all of us don’t have access to wilderness or even suburban woods or a nearby beach. You may need to find that solitude in a city park. In the book How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland, she addresses the idea that our current society does not really approve of solitude. Wanting to be alone can be viewed as antisocial. Being alone in the woods or on a big city street at night might be considered somewhat sinister.She claims that many people actually have a fear of solitude.

She wonders how we reconcile those attitudes with the competing ideas of autonomy, personal freedom, and individualism which also seem to be highly regarded these days. The book looks at the changing attitudes we have had throughout history about being alone.

While we are on the “M” bookshelf, look at two of her other books and you’ll see where her ideas come from. She has written A Book of Silence which, as with being alone, is a cultural history. She examines silence in fairy tale and myth, and in Western and Eastern religious traditions, She writes about its use in psychoanalysis and in the creative arts.

At the end of her story, she builds a hermitage on an isolated moor in Galloway.

dunes, fog, ocean
Maitland’s other book is From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of our Fairytales which seems to be the starting place for ideas in both of the other books.

These books and others make suggestions for exercises and strategies for developing a relationship with solitude. First, you might need to consider if you have a negative view of solitude and need to develop a positive sense of aloneness.

Finally, here’s an interesting example.  Pico Iyer is a lifelong traveler and travel writer. Why would someone who has sojourned from Easter Island to Ethiopia, Cuba to Kathmandu, write a book titled The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere? It is a book that contends that sitting quietly in a room might also be an adventure, Connecting it with Maitland’s books, I view it as one written in a noisy, crowded, accelerating world which cries out for slowing down to the point of stillness.

He does this not with a how to or a why approach but with the stories of people who have made a life seeking stillness. I wouldn’t have you read it because you will be able to give up your job and become a Tibetan monk (like the scientist Matthieu Ricard) or even just take a few years off to study to be a Zen monk (singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen). You may be more inspired by people like Marcel Proust, Mahatma Gandhi or Emily Dickinson who did find a way to build stillness into their lives. You can hear Iyer talk about stillness in a TED talk that was the starting place for his book.

You can read these book is a quiet, empty space – or just sit still in silence in your place of solitude and slip into a reverie about all this. The more ways we have to connect, the more we need to disconnect.


losing the light 2