Sunday, May 11, 2008

Solitude is often the best society

Human beings are naturally social animals; we belong in a group and it is within the tribe, clan, workplace or family that we find our identity. We tend to define ourselves by our relationships with others -- our place in the pecking order, our friends, our enemies. We need others and they need us; but not all the time.

There comes a point in all lives when we need to be alone. Time to think and be free of distractions. Time to hurt and heal when we cannot cope with the daily stress. Thinkers and creative people often need to withdraw from everyday society in order to work without the demands of social obligations. To devote your entire mind to a problem or produce a creative work a time of withdrawal is often essential.

We have many examples from the days of monks and hermits who sought spiritual salvation in private contemplation and meditation. Eccentric scientists and inventors have lived recluse-like lives obsessed by the requirements of total concentration, and regarding the intruder as a threat.

Excesses of this can lead to mental breakdowns as the individual loses contact with reality, so it doesn't do to go to extremes.

One of the most delightful withdrawals is that of the poet who seeks solitude and inspiration from Nature but soon returns to delight all society with the beauty of words, images and form.

"For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

Daffodils: William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

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