What the joyous solitude of early hermits can teach us about being alone

Source: The Conversation

Professor of Early Christianity, Cornell University

In today’s world, loneliness seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Countless studies have highlighted the serious and negative impact that loneliness has on our health, our sense of well-being, and our ability to thrive in an increasingly chaotic world. Most recently, the urgency of the problem led the U.K. to appoint a minister for loneliness. Here in the U.S., winter is a particularly lonely time for elderly Americans.

But loneliness (feeling alone) and solitude (being alone) are not the same thing. And lessons can be learned from those who have found solitude essential for inspiration.

In praise of solitude

Solitude – being alone – has long been praised as a necessary condition for creativity. Author Virginia Woolf, in her book “A Room of One’s Own,” offered an extended meditation on the writer’s need for solitude. So did many poets. In their writings, May Sarton (“alone one is never lonely”) and William Wordsworth (“the bliss of solitude”) were especially eloquent in their praise of solitude. Poet Marianne Moore has even argued that “the cure for loneliness is solitude.”

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