The fence between Solitude and Loneliness

Solitude is a good thing, right? I think so. I think it’s possible to find solitude when I am not alone but what happens when I’m alone is the interesting thing because it seems to happen so rarely.

There is always the possibility, in this alone kind of solitude that things will turn south towards loneliness.  Is this the point when you know you should reach out to others? What if it’s the middle of the night and you just can’t sleep?

Last night I was in this very situation….. Here is what I did. I put on a movie (Pride and Prejudice) 

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I have seen so many times that I can either sit there and speak the lines along with the actors, or I can leave the movie running while I go take care of the laundry. This is not actually normal for me… Normally if the tv is on I am watching it and if I am not watching it, I turn it off.  But last night I thought I’d try the old trick several of my friends employ of letting the tv keep me company. It was comical to me. I cleaned my cameras (they were really dusty),  wrote lists,  did ankle exercises and talked back to the movie when things got really dramatic.


I was also kind of trying to “listen” last night.

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I don’t know if that makes sense with the voices on the tv talking but sometimes I need  noise or movement that doesn’t need my brain engaged to help me coax my wandering thoughts back in from the wilderness. Balancing along the fence between solitude and loneliness I managed to slip into both a few times and also managed to coax a few good thoughts back inside.

I might have chosen the wrong movie to help me keep me company and ease into sleep since this particular movie is, like, 6 hours long but I had a lot of fun mimicking accents and saying “Oh, Mr. Collins!” I had never noticed before just how many awkward moments are in that movie…. like The Office in fancy clothes.

So that was last night. Not incredibly profound stuff. But I wonder what do you do when you have time alone? Do you find it productive or do you fear the silence and space?

Edit: Two friends shared this with me, so I will now share with you…


  1. Hannah Green
    Aug 12, 2011

    To answer your question at the end of this: I don’t really fear the silence, but I don’t always look forward to it either… It just is what it is. There are times when I seek solitude and times when I am lonely, like everybody else. But I …find, for me, that being alone while I’m in pain ( Fybromyalsia pain) is the worst… I need distraction from the pain, so that I don’t focus on it… But I find with emotional pain, I can only distract myself for so long, untill I find myself surrounded by quiet, swimming in a sea of my own thoughts and hurts, with God tugging on my heart, asking me to bring it to Him. I get a visual of Him throwing out a life preserver that wraps itself around my heart…them Him gently tugging on the line, the way a fisherman gives a light tug on his line, to let the fish see the bate….to get them to bite… Anyway, that’s just me. You should watch “How to be Alone” on youtube…or just find it on my wall.. Just cuz it’s awesome and I think you’d like it. 🙂 Thanks for saharing peggy!See More

    • pegster
      Aug 12, 2011

      “I find with emotional pain, I can only distract myself for so long, untill I find myself surrounded by quiet, swimming in a sea of my own thoughts and hurts, with God tugging on my heart, asking me to bring it to Him. I get a visual of Him throwing out a life preserver that wraps itself around my heart…”

      This really hits me, Hannah! I made an analogy the other day when my car broke down of being like a person drowning… How I cannot be helped or saved until I stop flailing and panicking. It’s just so true.
      The funny thing is that this analogy of being in the water- almost drowning, swimming, receiving help… has been coming up ALL OVER THE PLACE for several weeks now! So it’s fun and a little creepy that you say what you said.

      Thank you for sharing. I will go check out the video…

  2. Chris Hahn
    Aug 12, 2011

    “I don’t know if that makes sense with the voices on the tv talking but sometimes I need noise or movement that doesn’t need my brain engaged to help me coax my wandering thoughts back in from the wilderness”

    No, this makes total sense. I was reading this article a month ago about how to focus better, and it referenced something similar. I’m ADD, so focusing on a task or coaxing out the ideas is hard for me to do. Anyway, this article was saying that you should find a way to clear your thoughts, and one of those ways was to just empty your brain on a piece of paper; quite literally write down stream of thought for 15 minutes, and either organize what you’ve written down if it’s useful, or then begin to collect your thoughts after you’ve put your mind through that excersize. That didn’t exactly work for me. What I found DID work for me, was to doodle. Just mindless geometry. I created a bunch of points, and started connecting all of those points. While my brain and motor skills are preoccupied with this task that doesn’t require my full attention, it’s just enough effort to keep that part of my brain distracted enough for me to start letting the organizational part of my mind to start remembering tasks and projects. Sounds weird, but it totally works for me.

    I have a friend who does something similar with video games and songwriting. When his creative mind gets cluttered and he runs out of song ideas, he sits down and plays Tempest for about 20 minutes, and just after that the ideas start coming again. And it only works with some kinds of video games, some of them require too much focus and take him out of the creative space entirely.

    Anyway. The brain is weird.

    • pegster
      Aug 12, 2011

      Chris, that is awesome and extremely useful ! I am often writing things down that I never look at again because the act of writing it down makes it real and solid and not just like these thoughts swimming around in my head.
      Sometimes it really feels like I have actual words floating around that have to be grabbed and sort of corralled.

      I will have to try this stream of consciousness thing. I think I end up wasting a lot of time sort of running in a circle with my thoughts and sometimes it’s difficult to get out and think forward and through.

      The brain IS weird.

      Also… thanks for commenting! It’s fun to see you here 🙂

  3. John B.
    Aug 13, 2011

    I generally don’t keep it silent around here. I always have music playing (except in the morning while I have coffee and read news), but no matter what, I usually have something going on while I try to be productive. And a lot of that has to do with the loneliness, to be sure.

    Not to mention, I find I talk to myself more than I’d care to admit. 😉

    • pegster
      Aug 13, 2011

      John, I totally talk to myself, too!

  4. Abruzzi
    Aug 15, 2011

    Thank you for asking this question, sharing your experience and sharing the “how to be alone” video. I’ve watched the video several times –

    It is interesting to me that researchers are finding higher reported levels of loneliness at a time in history when there are more people on the planet than ever. Personally, some of the loneliest experiences in my life have been in some of the largest cities in the US.

    As I considered what thoughts to share I considered the difference between solitude and loneliness. There have been times when I have been 50 miles from another human being, somewhere in the mountains and felt connected, a deep sense of solitude but not alone. Solitude to me is often a quiet introspective space without distraction inside or outside. In contrast when I experience loneliness it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the number of people around me. I think of loneliness of the lack of connection with another. What do I do? At times I will sit with it and go a bit deeper to try to find what exactly is driving the loneliness and why it hurts. Sometimes I will learn something about myself.

    Other times I don’t want it – I will find a remedy – often a distraction. I may post in a blog, watch a movie or read. There is a method that consistently eliminates the feeling of loneliness in me. That method is connecting with another person. This may be as simple as conversing about something meaningful. A short “nice-weather-we’re-having” conversation with a grocery clerk won’t work, however a deeper conversation with a complete stranger will work. There seems to be a delicate balance between solitude and loneliness. I don’t know if friendship and social connections would be as beautiful and sweet as it is without the opposite – loneliness. For me a certain amount of solitude is necessary to “clean house” in my mind. It is a time when the only interruptions in my conversations with God are distractions in my mind. It can be an important time to listen deeply to what is happening inside and outside. If the solitude turns to loneliness there is a reason – sometimes I explore and sometimes I turn away and remedy the loneliness.

    • pegster
      Aug 15, 2011

      Thank you for sharing this.
      I had never thought about the complimenting that loneliness does for good friendship. It’s like deep hunger fed by delicious food.
      Although I wouldn’t promote cannibalism 🙂

      I think my problem is recognizing when it’s time to deal, when it’s time to find people and when it’s time to just stop thinking and be distracted.

      But I’m learning. It’s funny (or not really funny so much)- the moments when I first realize I’m ALONE- this panic sets in. What I like so much about this “how to be alone” video is that it speaks calm words to that panic. Shhh… it’s okay… shhhh. Stop flailing and float. Stop flailing and float.
      Incidentally, floating on my back in water is one of the most calming things ever.

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