Solitude is not simply the state of being alone, it implies active insulation from the rest of humanity. Solitude has many flavors, characterized by what is avoided and what is missed.
The taste of solitude changes dramatically depending on whether one is stationary or in motion, isolated or ostracized. When you are stationary you can form a connection to a place, even if it’s just a rock in a meadow, and even if it’s just for a short time. You are somewhere, and it is a place that is yours. Sitting alone at your spot in a bar or in your comfy chair, solitude at rest is peaceful, a shelter.
Solitude in motion has a different flavor. No connectedness, no restfulness. There is a drive behind the motion, something disquieting that prevents rest, either a quest for something unattainable or a flight from something. The mind is at work, gnawing at itself, yearning for the unattainable. The only thing harder than moving on is staying put, for motion becomes the mechanism that enforces solitude. By never staying too long in one place, no attachments can form.
I heard an interview of a guy who spent five years riding freight cars, not knowing how he was going to eat that night when he woke up in the morning. He found a way to express his thoughts as he drifted, and published a book of poetry that made quite a bit of money. In the interview he said something like “I’ve been settled down for a few months now, but I’m going back out there soon. I feel the need growing in me.” Unasked, unanswered, unanswerable, is where the need comes from. Is life in mainstream society smothering him, threatening him, or just disappointing him?
Solitude is the state that allows the mind to turn inward. Free from the obligations that come with all human interaction, you can simply think. This is the essence and the allure of solitude, and also its curse. Free to think, there is no avoiding thought. ‘Curling up with a book’ is not solitude, even though you’re not with other people. You’re with a book. Solitude is the state when thoughts are free and unfettered, and consciously you have very little control over them. It is the state of complete personal honesty, when the thoughts happen that you will never tell anyone else. It is the time we dance with madness.
Artists are the ones with the courage to tell us what they saw there.