Solitude Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Living Apart From Others

Solitude does not mean living apart from others; it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people–it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others. — Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness.

I slept in this morning and am already running behind, too much turkey and dressing, and definitely too much pecan pie. So please forgive me for the confusing quote. What exactly does he mean by being “fully present to ourselves?”

Perhaps what he is suggesting I engage in a two-fold exercise. Coming to an understanding as to who I am beneath all my trappings, and then embracing that person whoever I might be. I think if I look back on many of failures a lot of them occurred because I either lost sight of who I was, or tried to become someone I was not.

Solitude forces me to look at both sides of Palmer’s coin, and I think he is correct that once I understand who I am, and embrace who that person is I will be comfortable whether I’m in a cell or in a room full of people.

What do you think?

About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


  1. Webb: I am not sure that “comfortable” is the condition one arrives at by becoming more self-aware.. I would describe it more as a “coming to terms” with something I cannot change. I also understand Parker’s quote as being able to “refer” back to one’s self no matter if you are alone or in a group. Perhaps being able to reflect as an observer in a moment of conversing with ones self. Could we say a type of withdrawal from external stimuli even when in the midst of a crowd…. then again we could argue that unless you are part of the crowd simply or even being on a crowded street might be a comfortable place to find your internal solitude.. I would almost choose to define his “solitude” as “peace of mind”.

  2. Loved the post, Webb. I think most of us spend a good part of our lives trying to “come to grips” with who we are… and many of us take that journey on as trying to understand who we “really are.” Throughout our lives… and I’m speaking for myself here..we. try to define who we WANT to be by comparing ourselves with others.. or with specific attributes of others. I can remember as a child, changing how I laughed because I hated how I sounded and want to sound more like a popular friend. Little events like that over the years can create a jigsaw person… a little of this, some of that…. the consideration of which tends to make it challenging to understand who and what we are at our core. Becoming fully present to ourself can require a great deal of introspection, external help, self- forgiveness and acceptance. It’s hard to discover that we may not be entirely who we believe we are. In one small but important example, most of us white progressives/liberals would never believe we are racist. Ijeoma Oluo, author of “So You Want to Talk about Race,” and interviewed in the December 2018 issue of The Sun, point out that “we absorb American racism in ways we’re not fully aware of.” (Article is well worth a read.) In this and so many other ways, we all create an edifice representing who we wish we were or want to be. Trying to break that down is not for the faint of heart, is not easy, and probably is not entirely possible for most of us. But being fully present to ourselves is probably a necessary precursor to being fully present to those in our lives.

    1. Thank you Tom. Next time you are in Charlotte I want to introduce you to my friend Dick who also commented. Then I can just sit back and listen.

  3. Fascinating comments to your insightful post.
    Finding “peace of mind” as described by Dick represents living, abundant life.
    In your writing you mentioned the failures that were consequences of, “ forgetting who you were or trying to be like someone else. I can relate.
    Misplaced self perception is often the unintended by product of achieving that which we have striven to obtain. Educational pursuit, career advancement, material success are conditions that unsheathe personal attributes that create an environment for un-healthy cultivation of pride.
    Ancient texts reveal the distructive nature of misplaced pride. It was after all, pride that made an angel a devil. Solomon, King Saul, Eve, Peter, Judas all reveal a lesson about misplaced self perception.
    Regretful failures, springing from neglect, harmful habits or momentary temptation rob an individual of peace of mind.
    Inexperienced such a time in my life. “Tasting the forbidden” produced an X-Ray realization of human behavior, motive, and intent.
    The cataclysmic transformation that must have occurred when Eve tasted, happened in my realm of living. That season, for me, represented a metaphoric, “living outside of the Garden”.
    It was a scary and lonely place filled with introspection.
    The juxtaposition was finding reality, at the same spot I had, years before, experiences it ….on my knees with my face in my hands with hot tears of remorse mingling with the flame of faith belieivjmg He could love me, forgive me and transform me .
    Mercy was waiting at the very place that intellectual pursuit and faith exploration had led me to ridicule.
    The memories of the little church in Prescott, Arkansas where authentic shouts would ring as my Grandfather would lift his voice in praise…the faith of my parents….faith memories vibrated the broken chords and I could sing with. A forgiven heart; Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound that saved a wretch like me…I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see! Repentance and forgiveness restored proper perception and fueled personal acceptance of my truest self.
    As the Apostle Paul penned, it is no longer I that lives but Christ in me.
    This reality represents self discovery, self awareness, and resolve to embrace peace regardless of the circumstances.
    The paradox is beautifully expressed in an old song we used to sing:
    Let me lose myself and find it Lord in Thee
    May all self be slain
    My friends see only Thee
    Though it costs me grief and pain
    I will find my life again
    When I lose myself and find it
    Lord in Thee
    Finally, I am reminded of a favorite poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he languished in a prison cell….Who Am I?
    He ends the poem by confessing he is not sure he knows who he is but can rest in the fact that, “Thou Lord, knowest who I am”.
    This is the self discovery that is simple and timeless and sure!
    God bless you as you write from the pew!
    Thank you.

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