THE JOY OF SOLITUDE
It was summer '76 and I had an epiphany. The revelatory moment came amid record-breaking temperatures and, in thrall to sun-worship at a time before that was considered dancing with death, I was happy.
For a few weeks over July and August I was living alone for the first time. Until then Kev and I had been sharing. The place had been a hub for hanging out. Parties, spontaneous gatherings, stoner sessions and constant music was the scene. Kev was a Hendrix freak. I was big on Joni Mitchell. The band’s PA speakers were hooked up to the stereo and they dwarfed the room. Fortunately the neighbours were cool and tolerant, young hipsters themselves. I first heard Hall & Oates coming through their wall.
I was in my late teens with an active social life to match. Things were happening musically meaning I spent a fair amount of time with the band, rehearsing, gigging, doing the stuff young guys in a band do. I also had a full time job in the family business. When Kev moved out I stayed around for a bit unsure where to go. My girlfriend, much to my dislike at first, had gone off to pick tomatoes for the season with her student pals and so, ready or not, I had my first encounter with solitude.
And I loved it. I found myself able to think more clearly and allow my mind to wander where it would go. I could read in peace without interruption and choose whatever music I wanted to have bursting out the giant sound system. In that moment there was initiated in me a hankering for solitude that would be life-long. When an intensely busy schedule was showing no let-up, a day in the diary weeks ahead with no obligations to fulfill became a treasured thing. Eventually solitary would become my default life-style.
Of course it doesn’t do to be too far removed from congress and I was lucky enough for that not to be a problem. Being a studio animal I was never short of company for long. I tended to have a bigger issue keeping folks away and had to actively protect my solitary from what often felt like contamination by others. It is impossible to be social without soaking up toxins in the social environment, without being exposed to the spiritual pollutants that infect a shared space. After a period of engagement it takes alone-time to detox and cleanse oneself of the ill-effects.
No, the bigger problem I’ve had in life is not lack of attachments but being free of them. I notice there are many who don’t much like being alone for any length of time. It is sad to say but I think the majority of attachments exist mainly to alleviate this condition, a condition I would call fear of self. People who fear solitude should overcome it. It is a barrier to spiritual advancement wherever it maintains.
I consider myself blessed that an ease with being alone came naturally. In a way I discovered it by accident over that memorable summer. If Kev hadn’t moved on, had my woman not gone away perhaps things would have turned out differently. When she returned the old miseries returned with her. In stark contrast to that perfect summer a wretched winter ensued. I determined then such corruption would not prevail and resolved to make a change. She would never effect me that way again. For that and other things that have served me well I have to thank the revelatory power of solitude, and of course not discounting the therapeutic value of the very vibrant summer sunshine of 1976.
I like it when synchronicity calls. Just after writing this I came across a brilliant piece by William Deresiewicz titled Solitude & Leadership. It is a transcript of his lecture to students at West Point. Deresiewicz argues that knowing how to be solitary is essential to being a good leader. Curiously, after my epiphany period I was always much more leadership conscious and would only ever be comfortable when in that role.
an ease with being alone came naturally