A friend and I were recently discussing the difference between loneliness and solitude. As an introvert, I enjoy spending time alone. That doesn’t mean I am shy or don’t like to socialize. All it means is that I need solitude in order to recharge my batteries, process my thoughts and feelings, and to exercise my creativity. It is an essential part of my life. If I don’t set aside this time for myself on a regular basis I start to feel not quite myself.
While I do I find joy in solitude, as in all things there must be balance. If I spend too much time alone, I can start to feel the alone-ness more than I would like. When I cease to feel inspired and energized by my solitude, and instead feel depressed by it, I know that I have moved into the realm of loneliness.
Then, it is time to venture out into the world and be among my fellow sojourners on this planet. This balance between being alone and being with others is critical for maintaining my sanity. Simply put, if I do too much of one or the other . . . I get weird.
Some people cannot experience solitude without also being lonely. Others feel the loneliest not when they are alone, but rather when they are surrounded by others. This tells me it is not a mere matter of geography. Instead, it is a matter of connection.
To enjoy solitude requires an intimate connection with oneself. Hopefully, when we have that, we will experience less loneliness in our solitude. And when we do feel lonely, if we look for opportunities for meaningful connection, we will certainly find them.
This can be as simple as what I experienced today, when a police standoff caused a road closure and I ended up having a conversation with total strangers about which route I should take to get safely home on my bicycle. Their concern for my well-being touched me. But more than that, I felt a sense of community that fed my soul.