“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone there in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings…”
– William Butler Yeats.
In our continuing voyage we are paused over the place of solitude in contentment having just examined Montaigne’s thoughts. Our next great thinker on this subject is Arthur Schopenhauer, our consummate pessimist-idealist. In his essay, Our Relation to Ourselves, he offers some pointed words starting with: “We are happy as in proportion our range of vision, our sphere of work, our points of contact with the world, are restricted and circumscribed. We are more likely to be more worried and anxious if these limits are wide; for it means that our cares, desires and terrors are increased and intensified. That is why the blind are not so unhappy as we might be inclined to suppose, otherwise there would not be that gentle and almost serene expression of peace in their faces.”1
Solitude for Schopenhauer is a form of simplicity: “Simplicity, therefore as far as it can be attained, and even monotony, in our manner of life, if it does not mean that we are bored, will contribute to happiness; just because, under such circumstances, life, and consequently the burden which is the essential concomitant of life, will be least felt. Our existence will glide on peacefully like a stream which no waves or whirlpools disturb.” 2
He encourages us to follow the rule of Pythagoras to “review, every night, before going to sleep, what we have done during the day,”3 since non-reflective living leads us “to have no clear idea of what we are about; and a man who lives in this state will have chaos in his emotions and certain confusion in his thoughts… A man will be all the more exposed to this fate in proportion as he lives a restless life in the world…”4 He even urges us to preserve our memories and reflections in a journal.
In addition to simplicity, Schopenhauer advocates self-sufficiency. i.e “to be all in all to oneself, to want for nothing…”5 He cautions that “There is no more mistaken path to happiness than worldliness, revelry, high life,: for the whole object of it is to transform our miserable existence into a succession of joys, delights, and pleasures – a process which cannot fail to result in disappointment and delusion…”6
Solitary existence, he asserts, is more natural: “It will be an advantage to him if his surroundings do not interfere with this feeling; for if he has to see a great deal of other people who are not of like character with himself, they will exercise a disturbing influence upon him, adverse to his peace of mind; they will rob him, in fact, of himself and give him nothing to compensate for the loss.”7
(continued next post)
1Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 21.
2Ibid., page 22 (author’s italics).
3Ibid., page 23.
5Ibid., page 24.
6Ibid., (author’s italics).
7Ibid., page 24-25.