O solitude! My home, solitude! How blessedly and tenderly speaks your voice to me!
<Thus Spoke Zarathustra>
Sigmund Freud commented that Nietzsche "had a more penetrating knowledge of himself than any other man who ever lived or was ever likely to live." Perhaps this has a lot to do with Nietzsche's intense solitude, willingly and unwillingly.
He never married, was forced to retire from his teaching at the university, was deserted by friends, and lived as a hermit in the mountains of Switzerland.
Stefan Zweig wrote a beautiful essay on "Nietzsche's Seventh Solitude" that almost brought me to tears as I imagined myself in Nietzsche's shoes (as ridiculous as that sounds). Anyone who had experienced a high degree of loneliness could probably relate.
Here's one particularly striking paragraph:
Any kind of response would have been welcome, were it icy or heated or lukewarm, but at least a sign that he was alive and had a spiritual existence. His handful of friends behaved as badly as the critics and other strangers, vouchsafing no comment either in their letters or elsewhere, avoiding outspoken opinions as something. This gnawed at his vitals, undermining his own pride, inflaming his self-assertive impulse, consuming his soul.
Thankfully, with the advent of the internet and social networks, modern humans are more connected than in the 1800s. You can find a small circle of kindred spirits for whatever ideas you believe to be true.
Yet the more time spent on smartphones, the more surreal the world seems. You lived in many towns, traveled across the metaverse, acquired knowledge you'd never known, all without ever leaving the house.
In where does your soul dwell? Where is a safe place? Where can you find childlike innocence and joy?
Nietzsche's prescription is in solitude. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he writes:
My home, solitude! Too long have I lived wildly in wild remoteness, to return to you without tears.
To one person, solitude is the flight of the sick one; to another, it is the flight from the sick ones.
Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you dazed by the noise of the great men and stung by the stings of the little. Forest and rock know well how to be silent with you.
Nowadays, not many people want to return to their true homes. Many, including myself, are enslaved to their smartphones, entrenched in unlimited entertainment, and are scared to be ostracized. Bearing the solitude required in homecoming is ever more pressing.
Of course, it's not just "I want to spend less time scrolling social media." It's also "what do I want to spend more time on?"
For me, this is the harder question that requires some quiet time to figure out.
How can anyone become a thinker if he does not spend at least a third of the day without passions, people, and books? — Nietzsche
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