Do you ever wonder about the difference between loneliness and the capacity to be alone? Between the soul-destroying feeling of utter despondency, emptiness and despair, on the one hand, and on the other, the capacity to be creatively alone, to enjoy the space and freedom aloneness gives and to be productive? I do, often. I have been putting together a small collection of micropoetry, haiku, and senryu on this theme. Titled “In the Garden of Absence,” the collection aims to reflect on this difference, without, I hope, rushing to answer any questions. Even if I had the answers…
Interested? D. W. Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst and paediatrician originally introduced this concept. If you have access to his work, fine. If not, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis provides the best explanatory note of Winnicott’s concept (on this capacity to be alone) in the online Gale Dictionary of Psychoanalysis.
Risking oversimplification, I would say here that the capacity to be alone is not the capacity to simply bear being alone until the other person returns, but a capacity to feel and creatively use the space and freedom which being separate from the other person offers. In terms of the child, Winnicott argues, it is the capacity to disentangle herself from ‘mother’s madness’ or the most primitive needs of the mother’s attachment to her own offspring. It is in this sense, I believe, that this capacity, paradoxically, is compatible with the other’s or, in that case, mother’s presence.
I quote from Pontalis here:
“To be able to tell oneself “I am alone” without feeling forsaken—such is the prerequisite for what Winnicott considers an essential achievement: to be assured of a sense of continuity as between oneself and the other person, or, better still, to perceive discontinuity in a permanent bond, or even its rupture, as the very precondition of that’s bond’s survival.”
Buffling? Visit the whole Pontalis entry when you have a moment… of solitude! Click here