Henry David Thoreau knew something about isolation. For two years, he lived alone in a cabin on Walden pond.
In a famous passage in Walden, he explained why he went and what he hoped to learn:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life; living is so dear…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
If Thoreau is right, isolation has some rich things to teach us.
How to “live deliberately”. This is a good time to tell ourselves: “I am not going to let the tyranny of circumstances or fears dominate me. And I am not going to resign myself to living what is not life. I am going to choose how I will live…how I will respond…how I will be!”
How to “front the essential facts of life.” Maybe it’s a time to explore more deeply: What is most essential? What are the most basic elements of the well-lived, well-loved, well-enjoyed life?
Learning what life has to teach. What is my life trying to tell me? Our life has rich things to teach us if we listen long enough and hard enough. It’s a good time to be quiet and listen.
Learning to “live deep”. We go through life so quickly, skimming across the surface. This is a time go slower and deeper. We need some depth. We need to get down to life’s juicy marrow every day. And we can.
The ancients had a word for this kind of isolation: solitude. Thoreau wrote:
“In my cabin I had three chairs, one for solitude, one for friendship, one for society.”
Here’s what I believe: the more we learn to sit comfortably in that first chair—so that we let our solitude become a more warm, friendly, thoughtful place—the better we’ll be equipped to sit comfortably in the chair of friendship and the chair of society.
Maybe this is a time for transforming isolation into solitude.