Julia and I had a conversation about solitude. I was telling her I went bow hunting over the weekend, and although I was with friends, I spent many hours alone in a tree stand, apart from the others.
She wondered if that was difficult for me—all that solitude. She says she can struggle in those moments because her thoughts can turn negative and get the better of her. I’m with her on that one: the darkness can happen. So can the light.
But I still find solitude essential. I sent her this photo of the sunrise from my tree stand and said “Solitude is one of life’s intense experiences, and yet seemingly nothing is happening.”
She sent me back this quote from Pulp, by Charles Bukowski:
“Often the best parts of life were when you weren’t doing anything at all, just mulling it over, chewing on it. I mean to say that you figure that everything is senseless, then it can’t be quite senseless because you are aware that it is senseless and your awareness of senselessness almost gives it sense. You know what I mean? An optimistic pessimism.”
That’s so out there it makes sense!
The solitude of deer hunting is a real test of your interior mettle. You’re supposed to be doing things and not doing things: paying attention to your surroundings, scanning for movement, listening for sounds, focusing on your purpose; and at the same time not moving, not making any sounds, not being bothered by the cramp in your back.
You also have your thoughts to contend with—and this is where solitude can get challenging. Because your thoughts can go wandering, and sometimes they slip down the dark hole. The negative self-perception. The stupid things you said. The mistakes you made. The loneliness, the loss, the lamenting.
At other times you can use solitude to your advantage. As a writer, solitude is the primary source of my creativity. I can mull over ideas. I can let my imagination imagine. Solitude offers anyone an opportunity to plan without distractions, or to set the record straight on yourself, or to simply absorb the moment.
And yet solitude gets a bad rap. Study after study demonstrates that the key to satisfaction and health in life is social relationships. This is probably true, but solitude, and even times of loneliness, are just as important to living a full life.
Again, Bukowski, this time from Factotum:
“I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.”
I didn’t get a deer while hunting, but I experienced the beauty of nature and some sublime moments of solitude—as well as some difficult ones. I got a good temperature check on myself. It’s something we all need.