The Solitude or Loneliness of Quarantine
Solitude is not loneliness, and each one of us is experiencing either one or the other during these days of quarantine.
To be alone is to either be separate or to be connected, and the nature of that singularity plays itself out in the heart, in the interior world. We are either at peace or unable to cope.
We can experience these days as self-alienation, especially if we have spent much of our lives without practicing self-awareness. To live in ways that are always directed outwardly, to seek validation outside ourselves, to find happiness elsewhere from our own being is surely to find these days unendurable. Without others present to entertain there is only the gnawing sense that something terribly important is lacking. To be lonely is to feel the isolation as absence – to be apart without a thread that ties you to another or to your true self. It is the essence of disconnection.
Or we can experience these days as a time of great depth, as a period of solace, self-healing, and as a time to connect with the inner spirit of creativity. To be comfortable with this kind of oneness involves having found the secret of a happy life. It is the essence of Christ’s phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” This is what it is to be in solitude - to at peace without requiring the presence of another for validation. It is enough to simply be.
Like you, I have many friends who are alone these days. The creative ones are using these days in ways that reflect both solitude and connection. They are embarking on projects, trying out new things, learning, doing. One records a Bach Adagio in her room, another sings “What a Wonderful World” in his closet – creating quietly, so as to not disturb the neighbors. One creates online classes, while another develops a new platform for poetry readings.
Others whom I know are increasingly desperate while living through these days . Unable to be alone with themselves, they are simultaneously unable to join in a crowd with others. For them, these are dark days indeed. No one is lonelier than the person who cannot bear their own companionship.
Solitude reflects connection – both inwardly and outwardly - in the same way that an artist connects: Creating something that can be experienced by others and sending it out into the world.
This time of quarantine can teach us much about our lives. We can confront ourselves and what we have valued most, and we can see the price we pay and the benefits we receive for that kind of life. We can see what we’ve avoided, how we’ve become addicted to distractions, how we have not been true friends with ourselves. And we can see where we have been courageous and inventive, where we’ve gotten unstuck, where we have forgiven others and made peace with both the world and our own self.
I can only guess what these days are revealing to you as you experience this time away from others. But, from my quarantined loft to your home, I wish you the solace of solitude rather than the despair of loneliness.