Tuesday, August 22, 2023

On Solitude and Loneliness

Note: Since I'm living in France now, I've added a "translate" option for those who want to read the blog in French or any other language. This particular blog post, however, is going to be confusing in translation. English distinguishes between "solitude," as the outward condition of being physically alone, and "loneliness," which is the painful emotion of being isolated or disconnected from human companionship. French, Spanish, and probably lots of other languages use the same word for both. So if you find this post confusing in places, you might want to switch back and forth to the original English. If the word translated as "solitude" starts with an "L" in English, it is the painful emotion. If it starts with "S" or "A", it's the emotionally-neutral state of being alone.


    It's been almost 5 months now since I moved into my new village hermitage in Burgundy, France, near my new Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of La Pierre Qui Vire. I'm starting to settle in, and take stock of how different my eremitic life is shaping up to be here, as opposed to the way I lived back in Maryland. I'm beginning to make friends at the monastery, and the people in the village are friendly but reserved, the perfect balance for a new hermit in town.

    I'll tell you what, though: the first few months were tough. This is why it's been so long since I posted ... I've been struggling! I cried a lot. I'd never been so lonely in the first four years as a hermit! In all of last year, living in Spain, I never made any friends and I spent much more time alone, but I wasn't lonely like this. But I think it's like when you get absorbed in something and forget to eat, but you don't feel hungry until you smell dinner cooking, and all of a sudden you're ravenous. There were no monasteries near me in Spain, no obvious ready-made community that I wanted to connect with. The loneliness hit once I settled next to this monastery here in France, thinking "these are my people!", and then coming up against ... the cloister wall. I was just ravenous for connection, and could not find a way to connect. It was excruciating.