Terry Waite was taken hostage in Lebanon by Islamic Jihad in January 1987 and held captive for nearly five years, four of these in total solitary confinement, before he was released in November 1991.
'Ed should not be afraid of isolation, but should be prepared to exercise inner discipline to grow into it, suggests Waite. He ought to come home mentally fitter, with a greater appreciation of both solitude and the company of others, and desire to seek a balance of both.'
'I still seek solitude, very much so. But there are very few places you can go where there is quiet these days. You go into a hotel and there is muzak everywhere. Mobile phones on trains. People are incapable of being alone with themselves without telling Tracy they are on the train. And not only does Tracy become aware of that fact but the whole carriage does. There is constant noise and diversion everywhere. Part of it is quite useful, but I think this constant seeking of communication external to oneself and of stimulation is leading to the type of person who constantly needs stimulation. Or over-stimulation, and is constantly over-stimulated by visual images. Solitude and quiet and being alone with yourself completely for long periods of time people today are not familiar with, to the detriment of their own wellbeing and health.'
'Solitude is certainly nothing to be afraid of. I think in fact we do need a degree of solitude and opportunity of having our own space. Having said that, people often say that they require it, but when they get into it they can't bear it. Because you have to equip yourself to grow into solitude, to gain the benefits from it. So first of all there are dangers. Going into solitude in some ways you are taking an interior journey, rather than an exterior journey, because it will encourage you to be introspective. And you discover that along with all human beings that you are a composite mixture of both light and dark. The secret of course is somehow being able to find that degree of inner harmony and balance which you have to grow into.'
'You have to be able to keep going a lively inner imagination. I, for example, in solitary confinement had no books or papers, no contact with the outside world, nothing to read, nothing to watch, no TV, no radio, no human companionship. And no possibility of movement beyond the confines of a room without natural light. I had nothing for four years, almost for five years. So in that particular extreme experience I had to be able to develop imagination and use it, but at the same time to discipline it. Because if you don't, it will run away with you and you become terrified by it. For example in my case, every time someone came into the room, you might think they have come to kill you. You've got to somehow discipline your imagination, you have to keep it in balance.'
'The fear that many people have of solitude... in my case in childhood I would often read of people who had been kept in solitary confinement and when they emerged into the light of day after years they emerged as gibbering idiots unable to put two words together. Having lost reason. But there is absolutely no reason why that should happen, but it could happen and does happen. I have seen people who fall into a deeply psychotic mental state for the reason that they have cut off all communication with themselves and with other people (they have not had that opportunity) and therefore fallen into this psychotic state. Constantly, throughout the day, we are talking to ourselves. When you get older you often vocalise it but when you are younger, you are constantly having this lively dialogue with yourself. And where that is cut off, where you deliberately cut it off, you do yourself fundamental harm.'
Waite insists that he was able to gain from his isolation, despite having it forced upon him, and having no end in sight. 'I think the whole way you approach life, what you fundamentally believe, will come into play virtually unconsciously when you find yourself in an extreme situation. Now, for example, if you have the belief that life has its ups and downs, to put it simply, has twists and turns, and suffering is a universal phenomenon, you will then attempt to subvert it so that rather than let if have a destructive negative effect on you, you turn it round so that it becomes a creative, positive force. And that actually works.'
He admits that having an end in sight makes it easier to endure extreme situations. 'If you have an end date, it is easier to work towards than if you don't know whether it's going to be tomorrow or 25 years. One of the ways in which you cope is that you learn to live for the moment. If we think of life as a linear process, we start way back from A and go right on into the future to an end point at B in a straight line, we live with a certain illusion that we are going to be here tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Which is not necessarily the case. Probably a more realistic attitude is certainly not to say I am going to live recklessly and make no provision for tomorrow, but certainly to say: now is life, this moment.'
Waite says that solitude turns to loneliness in a life-threatening situation, but when those threats are removed, it can again be benign. 'The difficulties in the situation that I was in were compounded, because solitude was associated with extreme danger and extreme threat, the actual physical danger of either falling subject to being murdered on the spot or other factors. Or being, as I was, subject to torture or a mock execution. So in that situation of solitude where you are surrounded by extreme threats to actual life and limb, like any human being, after three years of not having any news of the outside world, of my family, I was I was extremely anxious to have communication with other people. But I learned also to appreciate the solitude. And if you were to ask me the question, God forbid, that were one to go through the experience again, would you choose to be with other people, or would you choose to be alone, I think I would in fact choose to be alone. Because I can use the solitude constructively. And if I could have books, then that would be wonderful. I wouldn't worry at all about that, because then I could be tremendously absorbed. But that does not mean to say that I wouldn't value the company of others. And I think the proper balance in normal life is to be able to find periods of time when you can withdraw into solitude. And I think if you can do that, it does enable you to be more fully present when you are with other people.'
Waite says he never felt the solitude breaking his spirit, but he did find it harder to cope with when his health failed. Ed might feel similar hopelessness if he gets weak from hunger. 'If you begin to find that your physical health is deteriorating, that is unpleasant. Because you do need physical strength to have enough resilience to put up with the extremities of the situation. I sometimes felt when I was physically ill, towards the end of the experience, that death would be preferable to what was becoming a living death. But that is rather a different thing. That is because of physical deterioration and having extreme difficulty in breathing. When you get to that stage, you think: "Oh God, I can't go on with this for the next X years." But that is a different phenomenon. You're not necessarily giving up.'