“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal said that almost 400 years ago. (Today is his birthday.)
There’s a wonderful chapter in Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation called “Learn To Be Alone,” on the importance of solitude.
Merton writes that solitude is not “something outside you, not an absence of men or of sound around you; it is an abyss opening up in the center of your soul.”
Solitude, for Merton, is “a country whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. You do not find it by traveling but by standing still.”
He describes “a mechanism” for finding solitude that resembles Joseph Campbell’s “bliss station”:
There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.
“Learn to be alone” was also Andrei Tarkovsky’s reply when he was asked, “What would you like to say to young people?”
I think I’d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.
“Loneliness,” writes Maggie Nelson in Bluets, “is solitude with a problem.”
As I wrote in Keep Going, visiting this place is not about sticking your head in the sand. It’s about finding the quiet strength every day to center yourself so that you can do your work.
(The zine in this post was made from a page of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. The text quoted is from Clark’s writing about Montaigne. The art is Albrecht Durër’s “Apocalypse.”)