Sinem Hürmeydan
9 minutes

There is a line by Horatius that I remember from years ago, when I was introduced to Montaigne’s essays, and that I have often recalled since then:

Why do you seek another sun, another earth?

Do you run away from yourself by running away from home?

Why have these verses affected me so much? We have all, from time to time, dreamed of escaping from ourselves. Our troubles, big and small, our anxieties, our life experiences, some people we encounter, or places we must be therein, have overwhelmed each of us from time to time and awakened in us a desire to escape. There are some unfortunate situations where outside influences can make life unbearable, and it may indeed be necessary and beneficial for the physical and mental health of that person to move away from the environment, situation or surroundings, if possible. But these verses point to a more subtle, deeper issue. Sometimes, we tend to turn our attention from the inside out just because we are afraid to face ourselves, to see ourselves in the mirror. For example, we seek solace in the nomadism of successive holidays, in moving to a new house, changing jobs, meeting every single day in a café with various groups of friends and chatting until the evening, mostly about trivial matters, or in going to the nearest shopping mall and buying something new. But a new place, a new job, a whole day spent with friends, or a new sofa in our house does not change the fact that we will go to bed with our own mind. At the end of the day, wherever we go, we are alone with ourselves.

Loneliness is a fearful dream for many of us. For many of us, the hours of loneliness, when one cannot escape looking into the dark and bright corners of one’s own heart, when one cannot get away from the various thoughts and imaginations that haunt one’s mind, are like nightmares. Even when there is nothing interesting to watch, we leave the TV on for hours when we are alone, just to hear a sound jingling at home. The unfamiliar voices coming from the television seem to soothe the quiet whispering of our loneliness. Or we call a relative out of a longing for a friendly voice, a familiar conversation, and even if we can’t meet, we chat on the phone. How nice it is to have relatives and friends of the heart with whom one can commune and have pleasant conversations. However, just as every beginning has an end, every good conversation, every meeting, every gathering comes to an end, and one will inevitably be left to oneself. In fact, contrary to the popular belief, remaining “by oneself” and “with oneself” is a fundamental necessity for finding one’s inner serenity, discovering one’s heart’s treasure and, in short, healing and elevating one’s soul. Let the word necessity not overshadow the beauty of this kind of solitude, which, intertwined with contemplation, is a unique experience of peace.

On the other hand, there are many difficulties in living always by getting involved in some kind of a crowd. From time to time, getting out of these crowds and being alone, getting away from exhausting, consuming conversations, watching the signs in nature; for example, a tree, the sea, birds soaring silently in the sky, will help us collect our depleted inner energy, ground ourselves and participate in life again in a healthier way. This tone of loneliness can be likened to sleep. Just as sleep is a vital channel that allows us to close ourselves off from the stimuli of the day and recharge both our body and soul, cleanse our body and mind of excess energy and start the new day rested and more energized, solitude is a vital need to heal, direct and recover our soul, which is exhausted by the constant presence of others, overstimulation and the effort of social adaptation.

Much of the psychological literature explores the negative dimensions of loneliness characterized by lost ties, disconnected and insincere relationships, triggering depressive feelings and anxiety. But there is also a positive, higher cognitive aspect to solitude that brings one closer to oneself, to one’s essence (perhaps even precisely because of it), but also to the feelings and experiences of other people, to the fundamental existential dilemmas that bind humanity together. Just as the precursor to showing compassion or sincere love to others is to be able to show compassion and love to oneself, the first step to establishing genuine bonds with others is to be able to establish a solid and loving bond with oneself, and to do this, to be able to be alone with oneself. Therefore, a positive “loneliness”, such as the need we all have from time to time to retreat to a corner to “clear our heads” or to talk to ourselves, should be distinguished from the loneliness accompanied by depressive feelings. The meaning of solitude as turning inward to oneself, withdrawing from the crowds from time to time, for a certain period of time and immersing oneself in contemplation lead us to two words, “halvet” and “uzlet” that have passed into Turkish. In English, a semantic distinction has been made by using the terms “loneliness” for loneliness with a negative connotation and on which more scientific studies have been conducted, and “solitude” for loneliness with a positive connotation and contemplative orientation. The focus on the negative psychological consequences of loneliness, especially by Western researchers, may be a reflection of the lack of sincere, unrequited, non-exchange-motivated relationships and the absence of lost or never-formed bonds that individuals feel inwardly lacking due to the influence of individualistic modernism on every aspect of life, which manifests itself in anxiety and depression.

When we turn ourselves towards the eastern parts of geography in which we are located, it can be said that disturbing feelings such as isolation, disconnection or disconnectedness are not decisive in relationships that shape the social life of the individual, especially with regards to family and kinship ties. Therefore, in terms of its impact, loneliness is often not manifested as it is in Anglo-Saxon geography: When I feel lonely, existentially desolate or simply afraid of being on my own, the consolidation that there are people I can call on the other end of the phone, that there are relatives within close proximity that I can hug and cuddle with, is a kind of a safety valve for me. In both Eastern and Far Eastern societies, depending on people’s relative spiritual understanding, it is a vital necessity to be alone for some periods of time, either to find oneself, to get closer to one’s essence, or to be with God, or the Creator beyond everything and everyone. As such, solitude is a preferential orientation, an element of healthy socialization.

On the other hand, solitude is a prerequisite for being artistically or scientifically productive, for creating a product, in proportion to the freedom it gives one. Csikzentmihalyi, who has conducted several studies in the field of positive psychology, has shown that adolescents who cannot tolerate being alone often fail to develop their creative abilities, as creativity can be developed through activities that require solitude, such as playing an instrument or writing poetry. Time spent alone is, therefore, an opportunity, which, when taken at face value, is an opportunity to realize one’s unique potential and to produce a meaningful product according to one’s interests, such as a painting, a literary work, a scientific discovery or a mathematical theorem.

Finally, I would like to mention a piece of news that caught my attention: I learned that, in early 2018, a “Ministry of Loneliness” was established in the UK. The aforementioned observations about the prevailing state of loneliness, especially in Western modernism, can be thought to be confirmed by the following words of British Prime Minister Theresa May, referring to the Ministry of Loneliness: “. “For humans, loneliness is a sad reality of modern life.” Although this ministry has been characterized by some as a political move, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it points to an undeniable truth. In this context, David McDaid, a researcher on mental health at the London School of Economics, identifies the erosion of the nuclear family and feelings of disconnection and disconnectedness in work life as factors that have contributed to loneliness becoming a social problem, especially in recent times. McDaid points out that in European Union countries, there are more single-person households than any other type of household, and this coincides with a growing awareness of the problem of loneliness.

Since this negative form of loneliness conflicts with the essence of human beings, their most basic needs and aspirations, and purposes of existence, the individuals who cannot alleviate the desolation in themselves may take actions that can lead to the destruction of the self. You may have heard of the famous thought experiment in philosophy, which has its roots in Berkeley and has been attempted to be answered by various philosophers and scientists over time: When a tree falls in a deserted forest, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it fall? Although it is still not possible to give a definitive answer to this question, a physical interpretation is that since sound is a vibration that is processed through our ears and finds its counterpart in our nerve cells, the creation of sound requires the presence of a hearer/listener. If even the very occurrence of a concrete, sensory action requires the presence of an observer, the ability to find meaning in one’s actions, to give meaning to life and to perform meaningful actions require the acceptance of the existence of other people, of one’s organic connection with others, and of one’s efforts to build intimate relationships. It is obvious that a person who is surrounded by social ties will enjoy a positive state of solitude.

In short, loneliness is a social phenomenon as much as it is an indisputable need for the productive, contemplative individual. Healthy socialization requires healthy, positive loneliness, just as positive loneliness requires healthy socialization built on healthy, sincere and core-identified relationships.

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