A Study in Solitude

solitudeRecently a friend of my son’s passed through our town after spending four months traveling alone on the Pacific Coast Trail. He began his adventure in Mexico and still had all of the states of Oregon and Washington to travel before his mission would be accomplished. I invited him over for dinner and we had a deep and serious conversation about the hardships and values of spending time alone with oneself, particularly in wilderness. He admitted that it was not for everyone. And that even now and then at the beginning of his hike he wondered if it was even for him. But after he finally passed through the threshold of loneliness, something soulful happened to him, opening him up to the significance of his initiatory experience which could only have occurred had he not become accustomed to solitude.
Most of us will never have the opportunity to give ourselves over to a solitary nine month hike, nor perhaps should we. But to find a place of soulfulness, a sanctuary of solitude in our busy lives is more valuable than I think we can imagine. Nearly every great teacher, thinker and artist has gone through some kind of initiatory experience where like Jacob they have had to wrestle with their own angel. Or demon. (Or Daimon, as James Hillman puts it.) Whatever the dragon is that protects them from facing the ecstasy and the terror of their own soul.
A time of solitude I think is especially important to a young adult when they are looking toward discovering who they are, what their life’s purpose is all about, and what kind of person they hope to spend the rest of their life with. But the fear of loneliness is always their lurking in the shadows. So distraction becomes the name of the game—video games, TV, computer surfing, all nighters at bars—you name it.
I think as a culture we all need to take time out from our busy lives from time to time and give ourselves a sanctuary where our souls can be nourished and if needed, be made whole. Perhaps it may be taking up some creative activity, walking in nature, or even gardening. For my step-father it was tinkering in the garage. Whatever one chooses, it needs to be away from one’s phone, computer, family and neighbor. It needs to be in a treasured place where sanctuary is honored and aloneness tantamount. We need it as individuals, as a culture. We need it as inhabitants of this glorious interdependent planet.