“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
– Joseph F. Newton
“I am alone but not lonely” I said to a friend a few years ago, soon after I took up a contractual appointment several thousand miles away from home.
“The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone,” artist Agnes Martin reflected in her final years. But in the neutral state of aloneness, the psycho-emotional line between solitude and loneliness can be as thin as a razor’s edge and as lacerating to the soul.
The poet Elizabeth Bishop believed that everyone should experience at least one prolonged period of solitude in life. But recent studies have revealed that regular periods of retrospection and introspection in solitude is re-energising and re-invigorating for the mind, body and spirit.
For in true solitude, as Wendell Berry so memorably observed, “one’s inner voices become audible [and] in consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives”. Music is the silence between the notes. This intuitive understanding is what psychologists have since found: that “fertile solitude” is the basic unit of a full and contented life.
When you’re at your lowest ebb is when you grow. To err is human but to pause and reflect is divine.
Butterflies cover more ground, but bees gather more honey. That’s because the butterfly just flies over the flowers, whereas the bee lands on each one and stays there long enough to extract the nectar.
Richie Dayo Johnson is an experiential specialist and consultant in communication and human behaviour. He works with aspiring leaders, high net-worth individuals and multinational organisations in Europe and Africa. He presently oscillates between the two continents depending on work and family commitments.
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