I look forward to reading both of Sara Maitland's books, "A Book of Silence" and "How To Be Alone" now that Brain Pickings has alerted me that they exist. (I don't get out much.)
In the introduction to her Brain Pickings review of "How To Be Alone" by Sara Maitland, Maria Popova writes,
"The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds – even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway's famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition."
Ms Popova provides a quotation from Sara Maitland's previous "A Book of Silence",
"...what happens to the human spirit, to identity and personality when the talking stops, when you press the off button, when you venture out into that enormous emptiness. I was interested in silence as a lost cultural phenomenon, as a thing of beauty and as a space that had been explored and used over and over again by different individuals, for different reasons and with wildly differing results. I began to use my own life as a sort of laboratory to test some ideas and to find out what it felt like. Almost to my surprise, I found I loved silence."
And from Maitland's new work, "How To Be Alone".
"How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves? ...we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops "eccentric" habits.
"Most people would still rather be described as sensitive, spiritual, reflective, having rich inner lives and being good listeners than the more extroverted opposites. ... But the kind of unexamined but mixed messages that society offers us in relation to being alone add to the confusion; and confusion strengthens fear."
Maria Popova offers a useful distinction between aloneness and loneliness,
In our modern society, Popova adds,
"There is no number of friends on Facebook, contacts, connections or financial provision that can guarantee to protect us [from aloneness].
Maitland offers us an alternative to these modern illusions of perpetual human contact. Her solution requires a personal investment in time and thought far greater than leaving the television on 24/7, or joining a dozen social groups on the internet.
But then the hoped for changes in our views of solitude, our comfort with it and eventually our conscious use of it may offer reassurance and skills some people have been seeking most of their lives.
"Even those who know that they are best and most fully themselves in relationships (of whatever kind) need a capacity to be alone, and probably at least some occasions to use that ability."
"She enumerates the five basic categories of rewards to be reaped from unlearning our culturally conditioned fear of aloneness and learning how to "do" solitude well..."