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Man is the only being who knows he is alone.

The entire quotation is, in fact:  “Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.”  It was written by Octavio Paz, a Mexican poet and writer.  It stands out to me from a video I once saw of a poetry reading and interview with him, only years before his death.  I remember it making an impact on me, specifically because there are those moments when, even when one is surrounded by others, one may feel completely alone.  There are a couple of types of solitude, however.

There’s the kind of solitude that is not desired – think loneliness.

Then there is that solitude that is self-imposed, and even enjoyed.  I found, over the past few days, a certain kind of enjoyable solitude.  Those moments when there was no one to talk to, no one to ask for anything, no one needing anything.  Just me.

In order to ensure this state of silence and solitude, I left my iPod at the hotel, my laptop behind and turned my Blackberry to “silent”.  Unless I felt the need, I was alone.  And what I found was that my thoughts have long been ignored.  I don’t spend enough time by myself thinking, planning, brain-storming, relating, even plotting (not in a Pinky and the Brain kind of way).  I want to fill my head and time with useless endeavors, with mental dead-ends, with noise so that I feel busy.  I found myself figuring out ways to finance a Master’s Degree, appreciating the utilitarian, if not beautiful, architecture of SFU and thinking of what makes my children so amazing.  In silence and solitude, I found many things I was ignoring.

Maybe we all need a bit of silence and solitude.

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3 responses

  1. That Wes guy

    SFUs architecture has always appealed. Brutalism is one of my favorite styles because I like the imposition of concrete’s mass. The campus has its own serenity atop the mountain, what with the view to the North Shore and the separation from the teeming city below. Quite a good place to think in its own right.

    Speaking of thinking: that’s a good use of your time. You should do that more often. I am oft reminded of John Candy’s immortal words in Canadian Bacon: there’s a time to act, and a time to think, and this is definitely not a time to think! Not only do we need time to think, we need to think about how we think: metathinking, they call it. These times are an opening for Word and Spirit to work their way into our lives. While I think it’s possible that we can change ourselves, the only change of eternal consequnce happens from External Forces. And so may the Force be with you… the still, small Force…

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 am

    • Is Brutalism really a style? That’s awesome.

      As for metathinking, or metacognition, it’s one of those skills our teachers never knew they should have been teaching us. The ability to think about one’s thinking is a skill that must be practiced. Sadly, most people do not spend any time in reflection thinking about how they think, about how they learn. We don’t place any value on this – we value the instantaneous and immediate, not the long road of contemplation and deciding. We value smartphones so that we can do things on the fly, rather than thinking about our responses and meeting face-to-face. We watch other people do things on tv and movies instead of making things and doing things ourselves. “Fast Food” culture has given way to “Fast Thinking” culture (or maybe “not-thinking” culture).

      Having just heard Scott Hammell at my school today and having listened to the crazy things this guy does, he’s inspired me to play more and enjoy more, but to start paying attention to what inspires me. TV and movies and apps don’t inspire me, they exhaust me.

      February 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

  2. Beautiful words that resound deeply with me…love the solitude. Thank you.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:16 am

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