The Carthusian monks have a saying: ”Solitude is merciless, you can’t escape from it!”
The Carthusians should know, spending most of their time in solitude indeed.
But what about us normal mortals? Especially now, in times of pandemic isolation, locked away in fear of getting sick. I have no time for the conspiracy theorists, even though I pity them. For the normal ticking mind we have to acknowledge that we have a problem at our hands. A viciously infectious virus that kills at random, particularly the frail with health problems.
I can’t say the isolation was a hardship for me. True enough, I couldn’t travel for nine months now and travel is a necessary ingredient to keep my job down but since everyone in my line of work sits pretty much in the same boat, wether they work in Adelaide, Washington DC, Vaduz, Moscow or Amsterdam. We all have to make do with Videoconferencing. There are those who hit the bottle before they even appear on camera. You can’t smell it but it is at times all too obvious that the other side is inebriated, is talking louder than they do when you meet them, and haven’t bothered dealing with that telling stubble, wearing T-Shirts instead of a crisp shirt which such calls really demand. We have a lot to learn yet about etiquette in Videoconferencing.
And then when we put the phone down we are alone again. Another sip on the bottle perhaps to beat the pain of loneliness, cabin fever, or as my colleague in Amsterdam admitted, another joint before the next call. I don’t do that. I want to have a clear head. These days anyway. In the few moments between calls and domestic demands, I walk the dog or contemplate over a flower in my garden.
Being alone successfully requires hard work. Being alone with oneself brings one face to face with one’s reality. For most, used to distract themselves with whatever is available, solitude seems unbearable. You need to like yourself to be able to tolerate your own company. Who does? But if oneself is the only company available and for prolonged periods of time too, the friendship has to be established with oneself, one’s dark side included, called by the experts in such matters ‘our shadow’.
As I never tire to say, tolerating one’s own company and accept oneself as one is, requires long hard work and eating a lot of humble pie. But it is not just worth it, it is unavoidable, especially in these days of pandemic restrictions. For alone with ourselves we will be more often for a little bit longer.
What helps here is to occupy one’s mind with beautiful things, avoid reading the news too much, if at all, and contemplate over what is around us as and where we are. There’s beauty all around us and it helps with self reflection and the inner peace making process.
Learning to be content in the presence of one’s own company requires kindness, patience and forgiveness. We all have a lot to forgive us for. We all need to be patient with ourselves and be kind in the face of our repeated mistakes. We are not perfect and that is how it should be. What’s there left to learn if we were perfect.
And there comes a time, I promise, where solitude grows rare fruits. Insights never to be had if we would not be forced to look inside. Peace of mind over the coming to terms with past mistakes. Moments of joy when the realisation kicks in that certain old habits have well and truly had their day and one actually has moved on.
Don’t fret solitude, embrace it. Look in the mirror and wear your best shirt for the day to celebrate a day out with yourself. Make it special. Make it count. Stay sober and of a clear head. The return may surprise you and may also send you to sleep eventually when you have told yourself everything you wanted to say and have listened to the voices deep inside telling you their side of the story.
You will be a better friend to your acquaintances later on when all these pandemic restrictions are over eventually as you will have found peace of mind. Through imposed actions brought about by solitude and dealt with in a healthy manner.
Take care and good luck.