We are social creatures. You’d be hard pressed to find someone to disagree with you on this point. However, for all our longing to be with others, or more specifically with that someone, solitude plays a pivotal role in our development and well-being. Without it we are likely to go mad, and yet today our culture fights for our attention on a moment to moment basis making it more difficult than ever to get some alone time.
Sara Maitland, author of How to Be Alone, writes,
[We] have come to the disagreeable awareness that [we] do not much like the people [we] are spending time with; yet [we] sense that [we] are somehow addicted to them, that it will be impossible to change; that any relationship, however impoverished, unsatisfying, lacking in value and meaning, is better than no relationship; is better than being alone.”
In essence, bad company is preferable to loneliness.
This rings true for many people who consistently attract negative relationships into their lives. We stick with these poor relationships because the thought of isolation in our culture is far less attractive. As a result, we feel normal in a completely unhealthy situation, and abnormal in a healthy one.
We are terrified of being alone. The thought of spending an hour or two, let alone days or years by ourselves is horrifying and we’ll do anything in our power to avoid it. Yet there is a contradiction here that Maitland points out,
We [Western Culture] declare that personal freedom and autonomy is both a right and good, but we think anyone who exercises that freedom autonomously is ‘sad, mad or bad’. Or all three at once.”
I’ve written in another post on Love, and how we tend to view people as either abnormal or normal. This sentiment is carried on here by Maitland as she shows the hypocrisy of endorsing personal freedom and autonomy while at the same time insisting that we must always be surrounded by other people. In other words, especially in America, we are encouraged to be free thinking individuals, but never at the expense of being alone.
Fearing loneliness isn’t only shared by Maitland. David Whyte, poet and author of the book Consolations, supplies readers with great insight and says,
The first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are.”
He further laments on being alone when he states:
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, to feel alone or want to be alone is deeply unfashionable: to admit to feeling alone is to reject and betray others, as if they are not good company, and do not have entertaining, interesting lives of their own to distract us, and to actually seek to be alone is a radical act; to want to be alone is to refuse a certain kind of conversational hospitality and to turn to another door, and another kind of welcome, not necessarily defined by human vocabulary.”
Whether or not we acknowledge Whyte’s point, we certainly feel it. To be solitary and dismiss companionship feels unnatural to us. However, nothing could be more appropriate for our health and mindfulness than to take the time to be by ourselves in solitude, and deny invitations to be with the ones we care about. In other words, our relationships strengthen through our investment in alone time.
The purpose of seeking solitude and unplugging from the world is to find a genuine self. You can’t ever understand who you are and what your beliefs are, or which thoughts are truly yours, unless you remove yourself, temporarily, from external influences.
It’s important to recognize how influenced we are by society because it enables us to move out of autopilot. Rather than going with the flow, and making decisions likely based off the interests of others, in solitude we are given the opportunity to really reflect on what we want out of life without any external pressures telling us so.
The point is to take the time to be alone, and not think of loneliness in today’s terms. Which is to say, stop thinking there is something wrong with you because you suddenly find yourself being forced into solitude.
Also, never feel ashamed for seeking out isolation, it doesn’t mean you don’t like people or being social. In fact, Adam Phillips, author of, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored, writes,
Although the wish for solitude can be a denial of dependence, a capacity for solitude may be its fullest acknowledgment.”
We realize just how important our loved ones are to us when we take the time to be alone. Most of all, we gain an awareness over which bonds are genuine so that we can spend more time and energy on those relationships, and weed out the more harmful ones.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to solitude deals with creativity. You cannot create without finding time to be alone. Attempting to find your voice surrounded by others will only drown out the authenticity of what’s being said. Every author I came across while reading about isolation and loneliness pointed to this small truth: We can never find out who we are without first facing down our fears and subjecting ourselves to times of isolation.
Creativity and innovation, and to a larger extent success, cannot be obtained unless we spend time with ourselves. Finding our voice is important for both creativity, and happiness, “…and in almost all biographies of creative artists and scientists, periods alone seem to be crucial.”
Regardless of the stigma, finding time and choosing to be alone for hours, days, or even weeks, months or years is as important today as it was for many successful people in the past. Ignoring the fear and anxiety associated with loneliness, instead try to do something positive with your time.
Our voice cannot speak when it’s surrounded on all sides. One of the most powerful goals for 2016 should be to find your voice, and listen to it. Not the media’s, social networks, friends, or families voices but your own. However, the only way you can do this is by blocking out time for yourself. Morning, afternoon, evening it doesn’t matter so long as you take the necessary measures to do whatever it is you want to do, alone. Personally I’ve always found that reading, writing, and meditating helps. But, if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to workout then do it at home, while you’re alone, and avoid the gym. The point of solitude is to find a balance with your environment, and most importantly, yourself.