The incubator of the spirit

The Lincoln Memorial provides a space for solitude in crowded DC, April 2012

The Lincoln Memorial provides a space for solitude in crowded DC, April 2012

“The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit.” Marya Mannes

I relish solitude, but loneliness is one of the most painful emotions I know of.  It’s tricky at times to figure out where the difference lies, but I think loneliness comes over us when we feel as if no one understands, knows or cares about what we are experiencing.  When I maintain ties to people I love– which takes mutual time and effort– I can experience endless hours of solitude and love every minute.

Perhaps solitude is increasingly omitted from American life partly because most of us do fear loneliness.  But ironically, as Mannes points out, loneliness is never more troublesome than when we feel it in the midst of a crowd.

I believe that part of the allure of the admittedly risky profusion of online social networking lies in the ability to connect to others with whom we share common thoughts, impressions and emotions.  While online contact can never take the place of face-to-face interaction, it does allow us to gather into “tribes” of other humans who have similar interests, burdens, challenges or goals.  This sharing adds a wonderful dimension to life for many of us who connect through words and photos.

Still, it’s important to leave “that zone of time and space” apart from the noise of life.  Many of us are fortunate to have spouses, friends or family members who understand and honor our need for solitude.  With such companions, or alone, I hope you will find some time and space today for your spirit to be nourished by quiet.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Boy, I have so many lonely friends right now that it’s disturbing my solitude, as I make phone calls or send notes of encouragement. I yearn for the pandemic to be over so I can rest in some unbroken solitude for a bit. I am taking extra time in the mornings for myself.
    Balance, right?

    • If you are the one making the phone calls and sitting down to write, you need not disturb your own solitude. Besides, I consider writing notes a solitary occupation, since there is no noise, pressure or time constraint. If you need to rest, go ahead and do it now. The writing and phone calling can wait. I’m sure your friends would agree. No one wants to put that kind of pressure on someone else, and nobody wants to become a chore rather than a pleasant contact.

      • Thank you for that perspective, Julia. I do need to give myself permission to slow down and take that time that I need for myself.

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