By Dan Hagen
From boyhood on, Ian Fleming advised friends that he required at least three-quarters of an hour of solitude each day. My requirement is twice that, and more if I’m writing.
Solitude, of course, has its critics. “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god,” said Aristotle or Bacon or Plato, depending on which source you read. I guess it makes sense that a quotation attacking solitude would come from a crowd.
Author Thomas Mann expressed a more serious objection to the love of being alone. “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous, to poetry,” he said. “But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
Yes, constant solitude may turn you into a smelly eccentric, but being constantly in society fragments mental focus.
“One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude,” Carl Sandburg said, and that statement has only become more valid in the 21st century.
Einstein thought that a quiet life stimulates the mind, which implies that creativity is drained by the age of digital distraction in which we live — an era in which pediatricians have to warn parents not to let their children take their cell phones to bed and text all night.
While relentless societal interaction creates shallow connection, solitude can, at its best, create a profound sense of connection. “I’ll tell you what hermits realize,” the Zen thinker Alan Watts said. “If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you'll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.”
And, by facilitating the reading of books, solitude offers a connection between minds so profound that it might as well be called telepathy.
“Language... has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone,” Paul Tillich said. “And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
What richness? Well, solitude offers not just solace, but strength, as Salman Rushdie observed. “What one writer can make in the solitude of one room is something no power can easily destroy,” he said.
I suspect that the greater your responsibilities, social and professional, the greater your need for some measure of solitude.
Superman, after all, requires a fortress of it.