This year again we are having a nine-day long Eid holiday in Iraq including the weekends. Last time we had such a long Eid holiday was in 2012. I went to India then. I am staying here this year. As it’s a long holiday, the compound is near empty. I am practically spending the time in solitude.
We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.
It’s the time of total unwinding. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we are steering the ship of our life, otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances and feel like we can never catch up. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways is by seeking, and enjoying, solitude. No routine or time schedule, no office work and I also don’t check my emails and there’s no urge to respond to emails & messages. It’s an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight myself instead. I get up when I feel, I cook food as I like, I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I feel so, I read books, I watch movies, I pray, I meditate and I talk to myself. It’s the time to let myself slow down.
As Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, says, “We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture. Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.” It seems there is always something that needs doing, always someone who needs our attention. “Unfortunately,” Moore says, “we don’t get a lot of support in this culture for doing nothing. If we aren’t accomplishing something, we feel that we’re wasting time.”
Many of us feel compelled to measure our success in terms of acquisition and accomplishment. Often when we find ourselves with an empty hour, we spend that time doing chores or attending to our relationships. We avoid ourselves because we’re afraid of what we might find: a forlorn, flawed someone who’s missing out on life’s party. But solitude and isolation do not go hand in hand. We can retreat from the world for a time without being renounced by it.
There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness. Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others. Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading requires solitude, so does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too. Solitude restores body and mind while loneliness depletes them.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” ― May Sarton