"Solitude, says the moon shell.
Every person, especially every woman,
should be alone sometime during
the year, some part of each week,
and each day. "
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I've been re-organizing my library. It is a painfully slow process since I have to mull over each book I'm considering purging from my collection. It does have its benefits though. I came across a book I hadn't looked at for many years, "Solitude: a return to the self" by Anthony Storr. My notation on the title page indicated that I'd acquire the book in 1990...a full 15 years before I began my journey as a contemplative photographer. It seems that even then I had a bit of the monk in my soul! I spent several hours re-reading it and I want to share some of my thoughts about the concept of solitude.
I've always believed that we are the sum total of all that has gone before. We are who we are because of the life we have lived and the people we have met. Those people and experiences are the fire that tempers our being. I also believe you can tell a lot about a person by looking at how they handle solitude. There are some, like myself, who covet our "alone time", who couldn't survive without it. Then there are those who flee from it at all costs, needing to fill their time with activity and other people. Either one can be taken to an extreme...there must be a balance.
For the contemplative photographer, these times of solitude are as vital to our artistic process as the time we spend making the images in the first place. It is our "ruminating" phase and with winter upon us I find myself more and more drawn to the practice of sitting quietly with my work. In a world that seems increasingly chaotic and demanding, I think one needs to make a conscious effort at solitude. If family life makes this difficult at home, then schedule a "retreat", either at another location or by hanging a sign on your door asking people to check back in an hour or two. Getting use to and comfortable with solitude might be a challenge for some. If you are in the Northeast, consider attending a retreat at the Stony Point Center in New York. They occasionally offer a two day retreat called "Cultivating Quiet" ...that is a great place to start.
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. I know people who can be lonely in a crowd. I never feel lonely when I am alone. When properly practiced, solitude is an enriching experience and one I highly recommend.
"We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own,
entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty
and principal retreat and solitude."