Solitude as ‘conquest’

Solitude is present in our society. It is the common denominator of many circumstances. The Augustinian Recollect Antonio Carrón reflects on this matter from the point of view of the philosopher María Zambrano.

Current phenomena such as addiction to technology, family disintegration, the situation of abandonment of many old people, children… must make us think. In all these circumstances we could find a common denominator: loneliness.

In general social terms, loneliness means being alone without the accompaniment of a person or another living being. Loneliness can have its origin in different causes, such as the individual’s own choice, the isolation imposed by a certain sector of society, a contagious disease or socially distracted habits. According to this, it could have negative or positive connotations depending on whether it is a sought solitude or a forced solitude.

Maria Zambrano, one of the most representative Spanish philosophers of the twentieth century, said in her work “The man and the divine” that “in human life you are not alone but in instants in which solitude is done, is created. Solitude is a metaphysical conquest, because no one is alone, but must come to make solitude within oneself, at times when it is necessary for our growth”. According to this, solitude is not the physical absence of someone, but is an attitude that the human being must cultivate from within as an objective to reach, essential to achieve maturity. It is, therefore, a re-reading of that negative sense of solitude, finding in it an optimistic, positive and necessary perspective for human growth.

Now, as Zambrano points out, solitude is not a state in which the human being should remain, since “solitude is a passing state that does not become a ‘dwelling place’ according to the language of mystics”. And he alludes, in this sense, to Descartes’ experience of ‘methodical doubt’ when, in order to reach the discovery of the first reality, as a method, he decides to systematically doubt everything (of the senses, of his own imagination, etc.), but not to remain in doubt, but as a means to arrive at that first truth that he craves so much.

María Zambrano highlights how Saint Augustine understood this positive sense of solitude from the great discovery of interiority. The author points out that interiority does not refer to the interior place, consciousness, psyche, which is how it has been understood throughout the history of thought, but that interiority is an essential condition for ‘perceiving’ one’s neighbor from within ourselves and feeling the life of the other. The life of the fellow man can only be ‘known’ from a more inner plane.

Therefore, interiority, for Maria Zambrano, is a ‘medium’ that makes possible the ‘perception’ of the person in its integrity, in its unity or totality, as neighbor. In this way, interiority has meaning in human life because it links our existence to the lives of others. Therefore, it is not a question of separating ourselves from reality but of learning to discover ourselves from the knowledge that emerges from within, imbued in it.

And all this is possible in that necessary framework of solitude, a well understood solitude, a necessary solitude that goes beyond the physical, a solitude that opens us to self-knowledge, to the knowledge of the other (our fellow men) and of the Other (God). A solitude that can well be considered as a conquest that gives meaning to life.

Antonio Carrón de la Torre OAR

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