The Merits of Solitude: A Stream of Consciousness

J.D. Luedi is a listener from Canada and contributing writer for Stimulatedboredom.com.

I find we exist in a world in which we are surrounded by a great multitude of noise, bustle and a sense of ever increasing rapidity and urgency. I see people constantly texting, shambling along at a pace seemingly designed specifically to coincide with my stride length so as to interrupt my meandering. Similarly, the hollow and unending posting, blogging and what not which fills cyberspace portrays people constantly wishing to be connected and “with friends” – even if in merely superficial ways. While I find these things in opposition to a beneficent existence, I am not going to continue writing and complaining; grumbling is futile.

I have long come to realize that worrying and fretting over such environmental agitants does nothing. Many people see the elimination of the boundaries of space and time in our 21st century existence as destroying the private/public dichotomy. While this may be true to an extent, as inter-connectivity makes one perpetually “on call”, there are often unforeseen benefits of such an existence. The hyper-presence which we are increasingly forced to adopt by society can be re-imagined and utilized to re-establish a truly private sphere. There are simple ways to counter the unholy alliance of panopticon smartphone, social media and Internet, by simply opting for a hiatus – for solitude.

The notion of spending time alone seems to many are bizarre, anti-social and on the whole antithetical to the mantra of our ever-present, ever-smiling pseudo-existence which inhabits the crossroads of the digital age. We see everywhere that one needs constant contact with friends and associates in order to be validated, in order to be happy and complete. The digital age has become the age of the extrovert, yet as in all things, balance is required, and time and space for personal introspection and coalescence is vital. I’d term myself a “social extrovert” – who like a social drinker can easily mingle and enjoy the pleasures of company, yet who functions fine in their absence. Indeed having friends and compatriots is a vital pre-requisite to contentedness, but you require and handful of close friends, proper true friends.

When I see individuals on Facebook who have friend counts which could pass for top tier SAT scores, I see inherent loneliness and/or personal insecurity, a person who is not in tune with their inner selves. “If you are using that word [friend] in a kind of popular sense and not according to its strict meaning, and calling him a ‘friend’, but are looking to anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.” – Seneca 4BC-65AD

I could ramble on about the various issues which lack authenticity, urgency or significant emphasis in our society, yet such an undertaking would surpass the medium of this post, the intellect of its author and the patience of its readers. Suffice to say, that the concept of solitude, is I find, vital to re-establishing a connection with yourself. Your real identity is often masked, suppressed, altered and tweaked by interactions with others, societal norms and social situations, and as such periodic re-alignment is necessary. Take a day or two to spend at home, or go outside and read a book, or whatever series of events allows you to re-affirm yourself – but do so alone. It may seem weird to some, but I find it is vital to my own existence.

This may all sound rather commonsensical or derivative, yet the notion of shutting off phones and other means of contact for a couple days is anathema to the constructed vision of an individuals existence in modern society. The flurry of self-help books, instructional videos, guides, bucket-lists and other trappings and paraphernalia, demonstrate that many people are struggling to come to terms with the idiosyncrasies of modern living. For the most part the resources listed above are often vacuous, self-serving and vapid. I would recommend, checking out some authors in the realm of philosophy which offer far better insights and adages, than any ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul-esque’ nonsense.

Having mentioned philosophy I have invariably alienated half of my readership, yet what I am suggesting is not the pursuit of cloistered ivory tower fancy or esoteric gibberish. Rather, I would direct you to several writers whose plain spoken good advice resonates today, plus most of them have been dead long enough for their works to become public domain – so you can use the very engine driving friend requests, email, etc – the Internet, to counter its own influences.

As a general introduction to the issue I would recommend Michael Foley’s The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy – Foley mentions most of the following individuals, and incorporates them into a modern discourse.

Similarly Alain de Botton’s The Consolidations of Philosophy is a great little book introducing a bunch of great historical sources of knowledge and inspiration.

Recommendations:

  • Epicurus – The Essential Epicurus “He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with notion”
  • Seneca – Letters from a Stoic “The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends on tomorrow and wastes today”
  • Marcus Aurelius – Meditations “Seek refuge in yourself. The knowledge of having acted justly is all your reasoning inner self needs to be fully content and at peace with itself”
  • Michel de Montaigne – Essays “If only talking to oneself did not look mad, no day would go by without my being heard growling to myself – ‘You silly shit'”
  • Omar Khayyam – The Rubaiyat

    “Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
    Nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing
    And out of it, as Wind along the waste
    I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing”

J.D. Luedi is a listener from Canada and contributing writer for Stimulatedboredom.com.

As a history, international relations and politics nerd, its great to find an outlet like this to hear the rantings of my ego echoed so eloquently by Dana. I am a Canadian-Swiss citizen, bilingual (English, German) I love reading and sincerly wished more people would pick up a book on a regular basis - especially one other than those allegedly penned by some divinity
  • Sobaixu

    Great Article. It reminds me of a book I read years ago about Culture Shock. As I’m sure you know yourself, normally one only experiences culture shock when traveling to a new country or returning home from a different culture they have become accustomed to. However, The book I read was focusing on “Generational Culture Shock” WITHIN one’s own culture. As technology and society evolves at such a rapid pace, the people living within that society can become “left-behind” in a sense, and soon experience a form of “Culture Shock”. And I must say, over the last 10 years, I have most certainly noticed this myself. I don’t even know how to USE a smartphone! lol… It seems to me you are feeling this kind of “Generational Culture Shock” as well.