I suffer from manic-depressive illness. In the early nineties, I was newly diagnosed and recovering from a complete nervous breakdown. A few years earlier, realizing I had a terrible problem, but not knowing its true nature, I had taken refuge in a shack near a 10,000-acre tree farm that bordered the British Columbia wilderness. All told, I was to spend sixteen years there, many of them in combative cognitive-behaviour therapy.
Winter can be hard on hermit writers trying to live on the cheap. (Image: WPClipart)
Old ambitions of becoming a writer had resurfaced so, being essentially shipwrecked anyway, I decided to live off my savings and have a go at writing full-time. The 1990s proved chaotic and painful years for me, so much so that I was never able to finish anything, yet they “made” me as a writer. For years, I kept a diary of my struggles. Those of you who long to be a hermit – writers or otherwise – may romanticize such an existence, especially one lived in a beautiful semi-wilderness area teeming with wildlife, yet the lifestyle itself really is quite mundane. What matters is what you do with all the time. I invested mine in making Jung’s journey of individuation and learning how to write. These two immensely rewarding activities literally transformed my life.
Rodin’s famous statue of the thinker shows him alone. Sustained solitude is a requisite for insightful thinking. (Image: public domain.)
Thinking requires solitude. It is a simple fact that it is impossible to think – deeply at any rate – while interacting with others. Add another mind and right away, the path ahead becomes tortuous. Human minds tend to diverge. Opinions seem always to vary. Except when they are trying hard to get along, minds agree on precious little. Inevitably, discussing any topic will lead to disagreement and the taking up of positions. This can be interesting and enlightening, but conversation definitely will not take one where one would go on one’s own. To think anything through to one’s own fully developed conclusions, one needs to be alone.
We are walking a lightly trod, yet millennia-old path here. The thinking tradition is illustrious and those given to habitual thinking have left us a fine legacy of insights into the nature of solitude.