A Meditation on Solitude
Originally published in the July 1981 issue of Senior Edition newspaper
Reflecting lately upon the sorrows and anxieties of a variety of my friends, I have discerned that, with little difficulty, I am able to list each of these – and upon further reflection a wide variety of the self-perceived ills of the human race as well – under the succinct heading of: I am alone.
The bottom line terror we all spend a large part of our lives avoiding is, simply and inescapably, Being Alone. The most difficult personal crisis is one which in some way forces us to face the potential loss of a loved one, the possibility of Being Alone.
People in crisis are people wrestling with the terror, the dread, of Being Alone. Whether it be cancer, war, an automobile accident, or a disintegrating relationship, beyond the circumstances of each particular crisis lies the fear that we are about to lose what we have spent a lifetime acquiring – psychological insulation against the stark fact of human aloneness (of which death is the most startling, if infrequent, reminder).
Perhaps the most unsettling fact about today’s younger generation to their elders is the seeming inability of the young to establish and maintain enduring intimate relationships. While not convinced this is more a difficulty for the young than the old, I do observe, among my friends and acquaintances in the age 25-40 span, an ongoing struggle between “freedom” and “commitment,” and the protagonists, for want of a more generic nomenclature, are the Myth of Bachelorhood and the Myth of Marriage. As dissimilar as the two are, each shares the same essential purpose: avoidance of Being Alone.
Here the similarity ends. Divergence arises on the issues of commitment and freedom. The Myth of Bachelorhood presupposes a variety of interesting involvements (not commitments, mind you) with a variety of equally non-committed others, satisfying a variety of personal needs (food, shelter, sexuality, fun, the laundry, etc.) with a minimum of risk (and, if possible, no risk).
On an imaginary level (witness Playboy) the Myth of Bachelorhood (not limited, by any means, to the male species) sells billions of dollars of assorted Bachelorhood accessories (from automobiles to aromas). On a personal level the Myth of Bachelorhood ultimately disillusions. Viable relationships are not static; if there is any relating going on at all the participants are moving towards, or away from one another. A relationship in which the participants are moving towards each other for any significant length of time bespeaks (albeit unspoken) commitment, thereby undermining the Bachelorhood ideal (maintaining involvement while avoiding commitment). Static relationships, which conform to the ideal, are ultimately boring. The result: Being Alone.
Consider, then, the Myth of Marriage, which (traditionally understood) presupposes commitment, fidelity, and the expectation that certain needs (food, shelter, sexuality, fun, the laundry, etc.) will be met entirely within the relationship. On an imaginary level, the Myth of Marriage ties one generation to another, fosters hopes of eternal bliss, and sells billions of dollars of assorted marital necessities (from automobiles to Drano), on a personal level, the Myth of Marriage often (my guess is, more often than not) succumbs to boredom. Commitment begins to feel like slavery. The participants pull apart, but, held together by their commitment, are prevented from being apart. There is no movement; the relationship becomes static. The result: (even while still together) Being Alone.
Thus we see that the result of both myths – the Myth of Bachelorhood and the Myth of Marriage – subtly conspire to create what both seek to avoid. And each plays off the other: anyone full disillusioned by one myth easily becomes enamored of its opposite.
My purpose is not to disparage the married (or for that matter the single) state. Merely to disparage the myths – and to make the case for Being Alone. It is our inability to be alone that ultimately destroys our relationships; we seek solace in the myths.
The ground upon which Being Together is built is Being Alone. Being Together, be it with your spouse, friends, lover, child or dog, could not exist without Being Alone. The avoidance of Being Alone, which reaches epidemic proportions among devotees of the Myth (whatever myth), is precisely what inhibits Being Together.
It is only out of Being Alone that you have anything to contribute to Being Together. Relationships which work are those in which the participants move in and out of solitude and in and out of togetherness, fostering the sharing which allows Being Together to be something other than a reason for not Being Alone.
If the Myths of Bachelorhood and Marriage fail us, and we are still unwilling to face Being Alone, is God a solution? Ah! – the Myth of God. This is not to say that God is a myth. It is to say that anything you propose to shield you from Being Alone is a myth. Nothing will shield you. Being Alone in the world is or existential state; like it or not there is no defense. You are alone. If God exists, and if he created us, the only reasonable way to get to know him is as he created us. (In the process, we might get to know ourselves.)
What of love? I know a man who cannot stand to be alone, even for a half hour. He is unable to love. He does not respect the aloneness – the otherness – of others. He does not experience the aloneness – the oneness – of himself. Love, having nothing to connect, exists in his world only as a myth. The Myth of Love.
Yes. You are alone. In solitude is your salvation.