With practice, solitude teaches us how to deal with this single companion, how to put up with them and to get the best out of them. However, without regular opportunities to spend time alone, we've become out of practice.
For all of time, man has sought and found such opportunities primarily in natural settings. Nature is where the earth whispers, yet in silence; it makes the loudest noise. Solitude allows for sounds we can hear in our souls. It comes with a voice that visits during quiet periods of personal conversation. It happens outdoors because natural surroundings provide our best opportunities to be still, alone and quiet.
However, there is a great difference between being alone and loneliness. Solitude is quiet time we make for ourselves, while loneliness describes the pain of being alone. In nature, as we all know, we're never alone.
Thoreau explained, "I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."
It is interesting to note in many societies that emphasize close-knit family patterns, there are also built-in loopholes to offer an individual an acceptable opportunity to escape, or a way to dissociate from society. Listed among these loopholes are such activities as marathon running, trance dancing, vision quests and hunting.
In fact, it was while spending time alone in hunting camp I began writing this article. Although my camp is not located beyond the clatter of civilization, the roar of a nearby stream and the wind whistling in the pines make it seem as if it is.
There is a major difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness occurs when you are all alone and you come to realize you don't really know your only companion very well.