Solitariness or Loneliness

The crushing loneliness experienced by very many elderly people apparently has become epidemic in Britain. I feel old, said a terminally ill woman in her 70’s and another person I talk to on the phone said how glad she was to see a face other than her cats! She was talking about her son visiting her. Visits are landmarks in the vast empty landscape of each day. Oh yes I LOVE visits she said.

Solitariness, a disposition toward being alone, doesn’t hold the suffering that loneliness does. I would hope as the years pass we could adapt and evolve from social to solitary and revel in that space. The full emptiness. Not because most will end up living alone anyway but because there is a positive in being alone. A simply joy in moving from doing to being. And you don’t need to have lived long years before enjoying that!

Anyway, here is a Guardian article titled Britain’s Loneliness Epidemic. There is help to hand, the problem is being addressed, alternative living arrangements are being developed. There is no doubt there is a problem and huge suffering comes as a consequence of loneliness. I just wanted to speak up for being alone as a quite alright kind of way of living. And why do I think that there might be a shadow of shame in announcing I live alone. Or perhaps a feeling of life failure to have ended up alone. Now is the time to learn to be comfortable in ones own company. That’s not encouraged unfortunately.

And the former Archbishop of Canterbury is speaking up for the elderly in this Telegraph article.

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15 thoughts on “Solitariness or Loneliness”

  1. Ah Reverend Mugo, you say: ‘because there is a positive in being alone. A simple joy in moving from doing to being.’ I am sure there must be, but for me it so often proves to be elusive. I’m sure there must be a deep connection here with our practice. Could we have a retreat to explore this and support each other on the path? Or am I the only one who struggles?

    1. In my experience it takes a lot of inner connection to make the shift from doing to being. If I am centered alone is solitary not lonely and the day passes by quite smoothly, quite deeply. But I do find I need to be engaged with something.

    2. May I reply Chris? Would you be willing to consider the following? if ‘being’ seems yet to be elusive for you, than you can start with ‘doing’: Go and visit elderly. I speak from my own experience. Just be there for them, listen and give yourself. You will be surprised how that may support you.

      1. Thank you, yes. I too have found that my work as a carer brings me immeasurable benefit of the sort that you describe. It feels like a very great privilege.

    3. Joy is a will-o’-the-wisp kind of thing. I’m talking personally here of course. This comment has had me pondering on the subject of joy and I am glad that you raised it. Yesterday, meeting and talking to the elderly chap, was one of those seemingly unremarkable moments which grew in me during the day. Joy doesn’t necessarily come with leaping and singing does it. And because of this the more subtle and often simple joys in living get lost. As for doing and being, we move in and out don’t we. And that often seamlessly.

      Thanks to everybody who have left comments. It has been so good to see this kind of participation in the comments section.

  2. Shortly after my husband died 5 years ago and for the first time in my life I found myself living alone, I ran across this quote by Paul Tillich, printed it and posted it on my fridge door where it has remained ever since:

    “Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

    _/\_ Doris

  3. I love the quote Doris. The word itself Solitude sounds strong to me, inviting and I worry I enjoy solitude too much. I sometimes wonder when I reflect on getting older that my love of being alone & solitude might led me to loneliness. Maybe I won’t love it so much then.

  4. What interesting and helpful contributions! Thanks everyone. What has been written certainly resonates with my own experience. The most useful ‘quick fix’ for me seems to be simply to go and sit – which of course confirms everything that has been said. _/\_

  5. Dipping into the journals of Thomas Merton again: on Easter Thursday, April 14th 1966, he writes:-
    “One thing has suddenly hit me – that nothing counts except love and that a solitude that is not simply the wide-openness of love and freedom is nothing. Love and solitude are the one ground of true maturity and freedom. Solitude that is just solitude and nothing else (i.e. excludes everything else but solitude) is worthless. True solitude embraces everything, for it is the fullness of love that rejects nothing and no-one, is open to All in All”.

    (The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Six 1966-1967, Harper Collins).

  6. Sabi, usually met in the context of wabi-sabi, embodies ‘loneliness’, but perhaps more of things than people.
    “Nobuyuki Yuasa describes sabi as ‘The merging of the temporal into the eternal, of the vast and infinite, out of which emerges a primeval lonely feeling shared by all things in this world'” Sounds Existential, better not make too much of it!

    (Basho, The Complete Haiku, Kodansha International, 2008, p.159)

    1. Hum, I think there is a link here to what I have just written about Walter. Indeed, ‘the merging of the temporal into the eternal’ might sound like how I felt as a child sitting inside one of the chicken arks. There is no explaining and as you say, better not make too much of it. And it is getting late anyway.

    2. just a thought: when there is neither temporal nor eternal, than there is nothing to emerge and nothing to understand.

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