I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between isolation and solitude. I think too often we blur the lines between these definitions and therefore treat them equally when in fact, these concepts are very different: one is unhealthy and one is healthy. Just as faith and fear have the same conceptual definition...believing in something you can't see, there are two sides to this coin as well.
Isolation is a very intentional detaching from society. It's being alone for unhealthy reasons. Maybe you've been hurt and are putting up walls to protect yourself from further offenses; maybe you are fearful of revealing your true self because of the possibility of rejection; or maybe you are so angry at the world that you've lost trust in human beings altogether. We've all experienced isolation at one point or another in our lives and to varying degrees. The point is to not stay in this state for very long. Human beings are designed for community with one another. It's what gives us life. No matter how much people may irritate us, we inherently need one another for growth, health and happiness. In my observation, I've never seen someone who isolates themselves actually improve their lives or even plateau. It seems to be a downward trajectory every time.
Solitude, on the other hand is a healthy space away from others for a time of meditation, self discovery and expression. All things in life require balance and if we don't set aside time to reflect and self-educate, then we can easily find ourselves trying to emulate others and lose our sense of identity. I remember when I was younger, I would lock myself in my room and simply create--I would sketch, paint, write or compose music. It was in these treasured times that I was really unlocking the deep parts of me that were desperately trying to emerge. I realized a part of me started dying as I got older when I replaced these times with more responsibilities. I have slowly been returning to scheduling time for creative expression on my own--and loving it!
Solitude can mean practicing a sport, reading a book for pleasure or even discovering a new hobby. It's never too late to learn something new! Once you emerge from this time to yourself, you can actually be a better contributor to conversations and connect with others on a deeper level. It enables you to bring something fresh and innovative to the table instead of just the latest funny cat video on Facebook. (although I will admit I still share them;).
Isolation is to retract. Solitude is to refresh. There's turmoil in isolation, yet peace in solitude. Isolation disconnects from others, solitude allows you to reconnect on a deeper level after your re-emerge. And I think it's that re-emerging that really sets this definition apart.
Think about the friends, family and co-workers you are in community with. Is there someone in your world who is isolating? Someone trying to find solace but in all the wrong places? Maybe you are even in this place right now. I believe the people in our sphere are there for such a season as this. It's amazing how much a simple word of encouragement, text or note can mean to someone in a dark place. We are not meant to do this life alone.
With an ever-growing depressed population, it's time we learned the difference and reached out to our friends in isolation. Sometimes our greatest obstacles can be overcome by the simplest acts of love.
Shelley's Inkwell blog is where non-fiction and fiction collide. It's a place for my life reflections and a place to escape into some really good stories.