I read with interest the link that Bernice posted before Christmas called The bliss of Christmas alone. The article has stayed in my mind, I was intrigued how this woman had managed to turn something that most of us would dread – i.e. a sad lonely Christmas – into something that was looked forward to, relished even.
Stumbling across this article by Sara Maitland, fiction writer and author of A Book of Silence has regenerated my interest in the subject of solitude. Maitland has this to say:
The question itself is a little slippery but it looks something like this: how have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world at least, at a cultural moment that values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfilment and human rights, and, above all, individualism, more highly than ever before, while at the same time those who are autonomous, free and self-fulfilling are terrified of being alone with themselves?
The Library has a number of books about silence, meditation and the joy of solitude, but Mailand’s solitude is not
something she seeks for a finite amount of time, she is not finding time in a busy world for a spot of meditation or a lie in the sun with a good book sort of solitude, she really LIKES her own company… all the time! I suspect few of us are capable of or would even want this type of solitude, and few of us can afford to take off to the Scottish highlands as Maitland has, but it is an interesting contrast to the Facebook world of multiple ‘friendships’ and our constant search for connection.
Perhaps Kevin Henkes in his Children’s picture All Alone sums it up the best.
When I’m alone I hear more
As someone who thinks mall foodcourts are the third circle of Hell (why do they play loud canned music when the echo chambers they build are already full of noisy people?), reading a book about silence appealed. But it has been a challenge. Novelist Sara Maitland writes about her personal journey into silence. That is pretty challenging in itself as she describes the transition from noisy family upbringing, vocal feminist campaigner, to vicar’s wife, to Catholic convert, to seeker of silence in the Sinai Desert and the isle of Skye. Fascinating but sometimes taking me well out of my depth in religion, philosophy and psychology – areas I don’t usually read.
And boy does she love her words – I had to reach for the dictionary – “apophatic” “kenotic” “phylogenetically” and more.
The Book of Silence finishes with Sara living in a very underpopulated area of Scotland – I hesitate to call it remote as in Kiwi terms it is not. But her house sits alone on a moor, she practices a disciplined life of meditation, prayer, reading and writing with no radio or television and the phone unplugged on a certain number of days. It’s not hermit in a cave stuff but in modern terms it certainly is a challenging way to live.