At the retirement center I’m learning the fine art of living in a community while retaining my solitude. The impulse of others to be welcoming is touching, so I am developing ways to assure my neighbors that solitude isn’t synonymous with being lonely. Solitude is a quest for a larger understanding of life without distractions and which, as the Buddhists say, begins once we are willing to sit quietly on a pillow.
In moments of solitude, I can discover what I have experienced in daily life but my conscious mind has failed to register. In other words, I tap into my unconscious, a path most artists take, I suspect. In “Going it Alone,” by Fenton Johnson, (Harper’s, April 2015, pg. 32.) the author reminds us that Henry James once “warned a young writer about the crushing isolation of writing.” (Ibid pg. 32) But that description is too daunting. The act of writing is a meditation, allowing a person to go inward to look outward. The quest is for universal truths, unifying principles that some refer to as God. The difference between worshippers and me is that I seek truth rather agree to believe. But in either case, believers and those who meditate are seeking a reason for being. Life, observed William James, Henry’s brother, must have a greater sense of purpose than joining the military, getting married, finding a career and consumerism. (Ibid pg. 37.) Those options are too limited.
To seek for the principles that bind us is the opposite of being self-absorbed, though the quest begins with solitude. What’s more, the way is beset with conflicting emotions. The journey is worth taking, nonetheless, especially for artists, who like Prometheus, are determined to return with something to share. That sharing is art.
Airy stuff? Perhaps. But solitude is not a state to be explained. It must be experienced. If words would do then Fenton Johnson has them:
To choose to be alone is to bait the trap, to create a space the demons cannot resist entering. And that’s the good news. The demons that enter can be named, written about, and tamed through the miracle of the healing word, the miracle of art, the miracle of silence. (Ibid pg. 39)
(Originally posted 4/3/15)