Living in the most crowded suburb of the capital city Beirut, it is a daily struggle to find an opportunity to turn inward and enjoy a few moments of tranquility. Silence is one rare luxury in the midst of roaring power generators that are used to supplement the intermittent and rationed public electricity and water supplies, not to mention racing motorcycles and strenuous traffic jams.
In order to endure such living conditions it is healthy to indulge in a dose of seclusion every now and then. Solitude which some perceive as painful isolation can reinvigorate and recharge the soul; it can be cleansing and serene. Occasional alone-time heals through contemplation and self-reflection.
There is a difference between full-blown solitude where one is completely separated from the outside world versus semi-solitude where one has access to others through the phone, email, texting, etc.; the latter type does not count!
Some people enjoy being alone for extended periods of time, they periodically go to the desert, to an uninhabited island, to a cottage in the wilderness, or simply to the remotest and quietest room in the household. They feel more at ease when they do not have to deal with the hustle and bustle of office (or family) politics and they have a low tolerance for small talk; without regular solitary breaks they feel besieged and incapable of being creative.
Solitude is not always a voluntary choice, for students who travel overseas to study there can be times initially when they do not get a chance to utter a single word for the whole weekend or during holidays. They need to be willing to embrace solitude which can be difficult if they come from a large family or are used to having company around the clock. Females struggle with this more than males who typically throw caution to the wind and assimilate the new culture much faster.
I have seen a few cases where foreign students could not deal with the sudden change of lifestyle; they cancelled their plans for studying abroad and hurried back home. Others were easy targets for various groups, some religiously motivated and others politically driven, which actively look for ‘lonely’ international students.
In many cultures the fear of solitude is the driving force behind the urgency of finding a spouse, particularly in the case of women. Sadly many recently divorced people re-marry while “on the rebound” in order to avoid loneliness which is frequently confused with aloneness (solitude).
Solitude can be a state of mind rather than being a physical state. One of my favourite moments of solitude is when I am occupying a window seat on an airplane, I block the other passengers, wear a headset, listen to my favourite music and alternate between watching the magnificent landscape down below and the fluffy clouds up above both of which compete with the best man-made masterpiece.
Religious people thrive in solitude; they periodically get away from the worldly concerns and usually seek refuge in a house of God, this gives them a lull from the rat-race by focusing on intense and uninterrupted worship. For instance some devout Muslims choose to spend the whole month of Ramadan in a mosque in prayer; they do not go home until Eid Al-Fitr (end of Ramadan holiday).
Solitude seems to be the trademark of prophets; Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was forty years old before the beginning of his prophetic mission when he used to meditate in the cave of Mount Hira near Mecca in a self-imposed seclusion.