bell hooks on Solitude

Throughout his life theologian Henri Nouwen emphasized the value of solitude. In many of his books and essays he discouraged us from seeing solitude as being about the need for privacy, sharing his sense that in solitude we find the place where we can truly look at ourselves and shed the false self.

In his book Reaching Out, he stresses that “loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today.” Nouwen contends that “no friend or lover, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness.”

Wisely, he suggests we put those feelings to rest by embracing our solitude, by allowing divine spirit to reveal itself there: “The difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness into solitude. Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into fruitful solitude. . . . Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.”

When children are taught to enjoy quiet time, to be alone with their thoughts and reveries, they carry this skill into adulthood. Individuals young and old striving to overcome fears of being alone often choose meditation practice as a way to embrace solitude. Learning how to “sit” in stillness and quietude can be the first step toward knowing comfort in aloneness. Moving from solitude into community heightens our capacity for fellowship with one another. Through fellowship we learn how to serve one another.

Taken from bell hooks’ stellar text, All About Love (Love Song to the Nation) pp. 172-173 (Kindle Edition)

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