The Quiet Tension Between Being Alone Vs. Being Lonely
In his anthology The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, James Baldwin offers an essay that reads brilliantly as a manifesto of sorts, titled "The creative process." He explores with conviction a theme that paralyzes many: aloneness. Through the perspective of an artist, he lays out how you and I can appreciate the value of taking the time to be alone and see the experience not as the absence of people. But rather, perceive the state of being alone as the presence of a process that allows us to arrive at a higher purpose and identity.
"Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone. That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — a banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed. Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.", wrote James Baldwin.
Baldwin's ability to clarify how artists use aloneness as a way of pausing life to carve out an identity of self that evolves the experience we have in the world is, if anything, offers us something we can pursue. And that is comforting. In many ways, the sun rising in the morning presents each of us with an opportunity to take some time during the day to be alone. Being faithful in your practice to be alone is a decision more powerful than your programming to think that without people in your presence what you experience is loneliness.