Friday, May 13, 2011

Escape? The seclusion illusion

Megan Johnston (, May 14, 2011)

(Illustration by Robert Duong. Photo: Robert Duong)

Sick of modern life? You're not Robinson Crusoe. But withdrawing from the world only makes things worse.

It has been almost 20 years since an idealistic drifter called Christopher McCandless trekked into the Alaskan wilderness and died. Seeking a period of contemplation and driven by a contempt for civilization, the young American gave away his savings and abandoned his possessions before embarking on what he saw as a noble odyssey.

Desperately ill-prepared, his quest lasted barely a few months before he perished from starvation.

His journey may have been doomed, but our fascination with it and the abundance of websites, books, and films that have immortalized his memory all speak to our longing for solitude.

The impulse is familiar to anyone who has felt overwhelmed by modern life. When disaster, over-information, or financial stress become too much, we retreat to soothing distractions and bunker down in personal affairs.

Instead of escaping to the wilderness, however, we usually seek solace in the cinema, in the meditation hall, or at a bolthole by the beach.

In many cases it's no more than a healthy diversion. No one could sensibly argue that an occasional break is anything other than good for our well-being.

But for some, seclusion can morph into long-term withdrawal. Solitude can tip into loneliness. Cocooning, it's often called. Or its close relation -- escapism. As inviting as both may seem, they rarely bring contentment. More