The grandeur of solitude: ‘Alone but never lonely’

The grandeur of solitude: ‘Alone but never lonely’

Let me clarify at the start my thesis-thought for this piece: I’m in no way advocating solitude at the expense of or minus social interaction, or isolation over meaningful contact with others. Verily, in the objective scheme of things, according to the “no man is an island” precept, a good life cannot exclude family and rich friendships or relationships.

There’s no denying that in the real world there are those who shun rather than relish the company of others, just as some would feel lonely even when surrounded by friends, and others would feel satisfied despite being objectively isolated.

In other words, there’s a world of difference between loneliness and solitude, between being lonesome and being alone.

Back in the old days (having spent some 11 years of priestly formation), I initially felt the pangs of loneliness—or “homesickness”—upon entering the seminary at 12 years old. The prickly feeling would come around whenever I was alone.

But as time swiftly went by, I learned to value our moments of solitude in the seminary—in individual prayer or being alone before the Blessed Sacrament, meditation, observing the silentium magnum (great silence) during recollections and retreats, and soulful reflection (the one I loved most). I like to believe that the configuration—if not regimentation—of our daily schedule in the seminary was the most beautiful, balanced, satisfying, sublime, and “complete” (though some of my fellow seminary alumni would perhaps whine that we didn’t have time for romantic, let alone “platonic,” love).

Time for everything

There was always time for everything—prayer; study; manual work; play or games; fixed time for sleeping and being awake; time to be alone and time to be with others; time to be with one’s soul and time to be with God; time to weep and time to laugh; time to mourn and time to dance; etc. Reason enough that when I left the seminary and subsequently got married, I sorely missed the peace and grandeur of our old life there.

One of the unforgettable Latin maxims I learned from our formators was: Nunquam solus cum sola (Never be alone with aloneness). This was a forewarning for us seminarians to beware of “idleness,” lest we fall into sin. It was cadged from the age-old adage that “idleness is the devil’s workshop,” and our formators would exhort us that if we were unoccupied and bored, we would find mischief.

There’s a profound corollary truth to this thought. To my mind, what causes people to be lonely when they are alone is the “absence of something or somebody” dear to them; you thus miss the presence of that something or somebody. Hence, if we replace that “absence” (or idleness) with something (say, an activity of soulful reflection or deep work), we can somehow transform loneliness into a meaningful experience of solitude. Thus, our thesis for this piece: We need not be lonely when alone or in solitude. Instead, solitude is but an awesome opportunity for us not just for relaxation but, more importantly, for profound reflection, deep work, contemplation, and growth.


Wisdom traditions are not lacking in profound truths affirming the grandeur and rich benefits of solitude.

May Sarton (1912-1995), Belgian-American novelist and poet, wrote: “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

Petrarch (1304-1374), Italian Renaissance poet, believed that solitude is “a source of freedom and virtue that rehabilitates the soul, corrects morals, renews affections, erases blemishes, purges faults, and reconciles God and man.”

German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche averred that solitude is a protector from political oppression: “Wherever there has been a tyranny, there the solitary philosopher has been hated, for philosophy offers an asylum to a man into which no tyranny can force its way.”

Also, Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher, equates solitude with freedom: “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”

While, indeed, what grand and profound benefits can we derive from solitude—and thus ditch loneliness?  I have three things in mind:

One, solitude—especially, if spent in meditation—can be an awesome moment of “clarity, peace of mind, deep relaxation, meaningful mindfulness, and health rejuvenation.”

Two, solitude is a golden opportunity for SELF-ENCOUNTER—reflecting (embracing and objectifying or manifesting) on our inner thoughts, feelings, desires and aversions, and our soul. Socrates rightly said it: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

Three, solitude is a BLISSFUL ENCOUNTER with the divine, with God, in our heart. It is contemplating and experiencing the wonderful “presence” of God in us.
Have peace! Fear not being alone. Let’s ENJOY being ALONE and echo St. Augustine’s soulful confession: “Quia feciste nos ad Te, et inquietum est cor meum donec requiescat in Te, Domine (You have made us for Yourself, and my heart is restless until it rests in You, O Lord)!”

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