Life does not come with a set of gaming instructions, we do not know what the pieces of our life are, which are more valuable and what unique abilities they might possess. Solitude seems to be one of our most undervalued and missing pieces, it is seen as a waste or failure, something that is not desired, antisocial and a bad outcome, but that is to underestimate the power and potential of deliberate solitude or the use you can make of it when circumstances force you in to it. It has the unique ability to transform people in a surprisingly short amount of time, it can intensify your experiences and allows extraordinary feats of concentration and practice, and it disguises that power under the cloud of boredom and social undesirability.
In the game of chess, the King is also the weakest piece, it does not have the power of the Queen (which reveals a glimpse of a surprisingly enlightened view of femininity in ancient societies where women were viewed for their strength) or the potential of even the humble pawn to be promoted, it has to be protected and preserved in beautiful solitude, undisturbed and savouring its freedom, whilst the battle rages around it. In comparison we do not even get told what pieces we have, what their value is, and even which board we are playing on, but by looking to the past we can see that the value of solitude was inbuilt as central in ancient life and a thing to be protected.
Though to win any game, you have use all your pieces and know what you are playing for, which requires time to think,you need solitude from constant stimulation and distraction, you need peace in which to think clearly and plan for your future. It is impossible to do so when you are reacting to external events and your awareness is on what is happening right now, in life whenever your king is in checkmate you lose the ability to bring leadership to your own life, it is known as harassing the enemy in military conflict, you are denying the opposition the chance to regroup. That is what is happening when you fill your life with constant demands on your attention and time, you are harassing yourself.
Life without reflection is poorer for it, you do not have the chance to integrate your experiences into who you are and what choices you want to make about the future. You are just playing moves rather than developing a strategy to improve your life situation, and there is always the chance to take a better path, that increases opportunities, strengthens your position and preserves your resources. Solitude gives us the freedom of action to make intelligent choices, to improve our efficiency of effort, the chance to increase our knowledge and wisdom. It can be hard to understand the value of empty space and time, when there is clearly so many things we wish to do and experience. When you are faced with a empty diary with no plans or dates, it can be an invitation to play the game of filling every time slot with an activity, but that would be to play the wrong game. When you employ that strategy you are not protecting your king, the solitude at the centre of your life where you get to plan you truly wish to win and understand what you want.
In solitude you have to gift to be exactly who you are, and spend time doing exactly what you love whatever that might be, you can do so without apology or explanation to anyone else. It is a chance to get to know yourself as you truly are, you get to reflect on how you have acted and to learn from those experiences especially how you have been less than perfect, or in other words a human being, we are all imperfect and by forgiving yourself for being human, it is easier to forgive others for doing the same, or acting exactly the way you expect them to act, and even how they have to act considering who they are. Solitude gives you the chance to be a better version of yourself, a plausible version that you can move closer towards, and it turns out you can even learn to enjoy your own company.
If there is one thing that can make your life truly better, it is if you can enjoy your own company when you are alone, and the company of others when you are not. Which like so much stoicism sounds completely obvious, and yet we spend so much time doing the exact opposite, when we have solitude we want not to be alone, and when we are spending time with people, we desire and want space, even so far as feeling physically uncomfortable and in need of some fresh air.
And the solution is simple as well, you focus on bringing your energy and resources to what you are doing now, and that is also the difficult part, because our minds are incredibly efficient (or lazy, depending on your point of view) and wants to use as little energy as possible, and what takes the mind the least effort is to compare simple states against each other. It compares would you like to have solitude when you are talking to someone else, or would you like company when you are alone.
It actually takes effort to bring yourself back to the moment, to focus your energy and resources on what you are doing, but there is also a reward. By using a small amount of energy to focus initially, once the mind knows that you are determined to focus, it will then use the minimum amount of energy to do that task, despite really wanting to use the minimum amount of effort of daydreaming and comparing. The mind switches to a flow state as soon as it can, we have all had the experience of becoming completely involved in a conversation where we are listening with the whole of our attention, and the more we do so the easier it becomes. The more complex the task the longer the learning experience will last for, but mind is always building towards being able to switch to a flow state. The Mind will of course always try and tempt you back to your lowest energy state, it will distract you for a moment and that is when you have to re-engage and use your concentration to switch back to the flow state you were in. It is only with experience that you learn it is worth using that concentration to get back, that comes from the confidence that you will get back, that it is worth effort to achieve better things.
And it is even worth embracing solitude, not forever, not as a retreat or a surrender, not because you are afraid of suffering, but because you wish to work on yourself, it is a time to practice being better and to train yourself up into a worthy opponent for life. It is the montage sequence in a movie where we see our hero running up mountains, sitting on the cushion and studying in the library. It is learning the moves of the game you wish to play, what is you want to gain, what kind of player you want to be and even if you want to play the game against other people or with them.
And spoiler alert it turns out to be more fun to play with others than against them, to be part of something co-operative, a team that works together to achieve a mission or joint goal, which by a coincidence happens to be what happens when hunter gathers stalk their prey together. There are opportunities for individual to shine and show their competence and skill, but what matters is the result of their joint effort, that they have completed their mission. However you can only know this to be true by experiencing it, so experiment and see what feels good to you, find out what works for you, that is the only result that matters. Only you can find out if solitude allows you to be the best version of yourself when you join the hunt, if it is worth the time to practice and prepare for an engaged life rather than repeating the same mistakes again. It is only the contrast of solitude that allows us to view ourselves.