Updated: Aug 25, 2019
As you may already know if you had read my answers (or this blog) before, I am an advocate of not only individuality, but also solitude. In my opinion solitude can be used for productive and meaningful purposes if we may stop seeing it as a purely bad or a wasteful state of being.
Just think of all the artists, authors, scientists and religious individuals throughout history, who gave great contribution to humanity (and to themselves as well) and were natural recluses. Think of how you can use your time alone not only for your own benefit, but, in addition, as a time for altruism, through creation and deep thought, which can be most optimal in production when in seclusion, away from social distractions.
As an INFJ (which is one of the 16 personalities in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), I find it hard to waste my time with being lazy or unproductive, thus even though I usually have plenty of time, there is barely a few minutes when I’m not doing anything (or doing something which I find to be purely time-wasting and thus meaningless). This is why I have learnt in my contemplation the following: that one can lead an active and rich life even at extensive times of solitude with minimal social interaction.
I would like to translate and share with you an article I wrote in my first book to be published, the Hermitericum, called The Purposes of Solitude. Probably being one of the longest articles in this book (which generally they contain only a few pages, and this as well). In this article I think of the various usages and functions one can achieve while in solitude in the following fields: religion, spirituality, intellectuality and the artistic:
The Purposes of Solitude
It is probably common to think that the experience of seclusion has some kind of a higher spiritual purpose, such as being with a god or gods (depends on your religion of course), finding serenity, to reach self-enlightenment, reach a state of holiness or nirvana, finding quiet and peace, achieve independence and so forth. All of these are fine purposes, and they are based on an iron will for going out to an adventure in the quest to achieve a meaningful or desired value, whether if its on the religious, psychological, intellectual level and so on.
However the matter is, simple as it may sound, is that solitude has no purpose of its own. Solitude, at least for how it is explained by Solitary Individualism, in its most objective form, is of nihilistic nature, meaning it is meaningless and purposeless. However, it does not mean it has no value, because meanings it contains are only individual, or in other words, subjective and up for personal interpretation. Every loner/monk/hermit, if they look for a higher meaning for solitude, didn’t decided to seclude “out of the blue” unless they were forced without their will into solitude by society. Regardless, if that particular loner/monk/hermit is an existentialist (i.e someone who brings/creates meaning into their lives), they would naturally look for a purpose to their solitude, and thus may produce, gradually, a complete philosophy around it, and the life and the world as well; a philosophy which could serve as a guide and thus help them adjust to be on their own. This is under two possibilities: in the name of sanity or in the name of hatred and self-misery and hurting one’s mental health. However, Solitary Individualism shall always prefer the first possibility, since it is a humanist and an ideology which advocates for asceticism not for self-harm but for health and self-improvement.
Out of the assumption that solitude is objectively meaningless (one can argue that there is no such thing as “objective meaning”), the initiates (the ones who first begin to experience extensive solitude), might find themselves in a state of invalidity, boredom, or insufferable misery. Therefore, from the psychological and philosophical nature of the man who needs a higher purpose (i.e an existential purpose), not only needs that initiate to learn to be alone, but to acknowledge their solitude if they are indeed determined to be alone for long periods of time. Only through aware acknowledgement it is possible to create a rational and sane meaning, and especially in solitude, since there is no higher invalidity at first for those who are not yet experienced in “sology” (i.e being alone). This is why for initiates, being alone may be seen as almost an inevitable state for anxiety, especially for those who become acquainted with it for the first times.
By creating a purpose for solitude through consciousness, the initiate-in-solitude start to develop an immune nature against the anxiety of the invalid, and their solitude, thanks to the power of thought and adjustment, receives a more philosophical form; the solution to the problem of solitude is in a different approach than of the normally accepted one, which may be more immature.
Here we shall observe solitude on different aspects of meaning: the religious, the spiritual, the intellectual and the creative.
This is probably the most basic seclusion known to man, which was based solely for creating an intimic relationship with a divine entity. The religious loners/monks/hermits were ascetics, prophets, priests and pastors, who dedicated their existence to elevation, to a state of holiness, through ascetic and sometimes negative means, in the quest to find communication with a god, to pray to him/she/them, and to glorify and ask for their forgiveness on various of sins. Fasting, extreme seclusion, vows of silence and continuous prayer were and are inseparable parts from this hermetic existence of the highly devoted religious individuals in the name of divinity. Likewise, religious solitude could have been also a result of either volunteering or force. There may be a difference between the religious person who becomes one out of their own will and sacrifices everything for his idol/god, between a religious cult which forces its members to sacrifice the same thing without their approval, but by brainwashing them and breaking their spirits or out of manipulation.
The religious seclusion may be radical in a way that its specific doctrine may demand the loner/monk/hermit to deny his sexual, materialistic, social and unethical urges, along with even needs which psychology may see them as a part of the human nature. In fact, this type of solitude might focus majorly if not completely in saying “no” to the individual’s personal drives, wills and needs, for them to be “better”, “humbler”, “more zealot” or “more moral” being through self-torment.
Solitary Individualism may not focus and does not encourage such radical type of solitude, since it may be unhealthy, damaging and extremely repressing the authenticy and the liberty of the individual, although it is up to the individual themselves to choose what to practice and what not.
In contrast to religious solitude, spiritual solitude focuses on bringing the loner/hermit/monk’s attention into the present moment, on living more simply and on looking on the world and the human existence in less hostile and detached nature, and instead develop a more loving and harmonious perspective in the name of unity. The spiritual loner/hermit/monk does not have to be necessarily religious, even though religion and spirituality seem to be at times as inseparable.
In this seclusion, the individual goes out into a journey - it can be a physical journey around the world or a more abstract, metaphorical concept of going inwardly rather than externally. This, in order to obtain a higher purpose to life’s daily and grey-ish grounds, to “get rid” of the ego and never-ending passions, and also to find an authentic self - some sort of a nucleus which is found beyond the production of the external environment (a concept which may be controversial). There are many schools in this type of seclusion, which aspire to teach its students how to live more “correctly”. However who knows what intention or motive lies beyond a guru’s serenity who preaches to its students.
There is no need to be a student of a guru or a spiritual mentor in order to have spiritual intentions and practices. As seen in the Hermitericum, all what there is in order to be spiritual according to this book is to have a willpower to find existential meaning, which brings its receiver/creator a sense of emissary, destiny and deep and honest satisfaction. Spirituality, in the eyes of Solitary Individualism, views today’s society (or, if to compensate, today’s mainstream society) as a body devoid of deep meaning, some sort of a machine absent from philosophical reason to its existence, which finds all its purpose through passing, short-term meanings of materialism and ‘earthly’ issues. This approach towards society may be also true in the eyes of the religious seclusion. However unlike spiritual seclusion, the religious approach may point out on more moral indications of an eternal conflict between “good” and “bad”, “purity” and “sin” and so forth. It may also claim, if extremely radical, that in the more secular society, the hedonistic materialism are the possessions of a diabolical being (such as Satan in the Abrahamic religions) which threatens to rule over the individual’s free will.
The spiritual solitude may ignore all of these, since it aspires more to achieve the depth and the potential satisfaction which may lay in our existence (i.e self-actualization).
The Intellectual Seclusion is, perhaps, the most common solitude in the life of the post-modern man, as any school student may know that in order to prepare for an exam, do a solo research project and even in order to do homework, if there is no one to help them or if they do not require assistance, it is ordinary that they must seclude themselves for a while in order to do their craft in the name of knowledge, enlightenment and wisdom.
The intellectual solitude’s exclusive possessions are the reading and the writing. In order to read or write a book, or a quote, a question or article, there is a critical need of a certain level of silence and concentration to go over the material, activate some thought, devise an idea or simply contemplate or a certain subject, trying to understand what one’s has read, to gain knowledge, to summarize and to conclude. The common word for these complex and extensive activities is learning.
The only negative criticism I have to grant to this type of solitude is, that for the most part it’s originated by force/law instead of will, in the name of discipline, social evaluation and external hopes for academic success instead of voluntary interest, intellectual drive and the will for mental enrichment. Not for nothing plenty of school students and even university ones may be complaining on their educational experience in the various institutions not necessarily out of a certain difficulty, but simply because the craft of learning is done by them out of force, and not necessarily out of their own will and their curiosity.
However, if the intellectual seclusion is done out of the will for knowledge, mental enrichment and horizon broadening, then it is probably done by men and women of letters - authors, philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, in which with their efforts, with the dedication of their life to the written word and out of love of ideas, they prove in their contributions to humankind the importance of solitude as a most valuable condition for gaining wisdom and finding answers to the problems of the individual and collective problems of existence in the name of spirit.
This solitude in this aspect may be probably the most rationalistic one, meaning that instead of necessarily connecting to a divine deity/ies or aspire to a higher level of life, it requests from its practitioners to use common sense and dedicate it as their meaning of life as intellectual loners/hermits/monks.
The seclusion used for the fields of arts is of a most therapeutic kind, since unlike intellectual seclusion, creative solitude is mostly done out of will. It is probably the most healthy one too, since because it is therapeutic, after the craft of drawing, writing, poetry, playing, sculpturing and so forth, the artistic recluse is mostly contented, satisfied and is in comfort.
In similar to intellectual solitude, also for the sake of creation, relative concentration and silence may be needed. However the distinguishing demand from creative solitude to its counterpart is to have a muse. What is, exactly, a muse? Muse can be anything - a sense of serenity, a beautiful person, an arrangement of sounds, a sentence, a deed and in fact everything in the material and the abstract world can serve as a muse for the artist, under the condition of that object or subject grant him inspiration, some kind of an original idea or a supreme sense that shall give them the trigger to create and to produce. It is the same higher purpose the spiritual aspect of solitude may provide for the spiritualist - and in order for the artist to obtain it, they are ought to create, and to create optimally they ought to be by themselves - whether in silent room or a vibrant environment, for them to be by themselves deep in the realm of their minds, completely devoted to the craft of creation and eventually, as some may say, be one with their love for creativity.
In a social consciousness which appreciates the arts, we may do good by valuing the reclusive artists for them to be provided with the required resources to awaken among other people the sensation of wonder, which may be the reason that consciousness may highly evaluate art as a value for it. Thus in such society, seclusion may be estimated as well, even until a certain limit.
Through this article I wish to therefore to prove that solitude is not something which is needed to take for granted. More than that - solitude isn’t just a state of being, but a whole world to contain infinite creations, philosophies, values, wisdoms and religions. They shall all preserve and justify its potential functions.