Why Do I Like Being Alone?: Grow Less Suspicious of Solitude
Solitude Vs. Loneliness
Imagine yourself sitting in your car after a long day at work. Your mind is buzzing while reviewing all the actions of the day: meetings, deadlines, microaggressions, profundities, and banalities. The usual. Traffic is stifling but nothing more than you’re used to. As you’re sitting there alone in your car, not listening to music or texting, not in a rush to make it to anywhere in particular, what do you do? How do you feel? What sensations arise? Restlessness? Boredom? Relief? Loneliness? Solitude?
In those quiet moments, do you reach for something to distract you from aloneness? If so, you’d be like most people– a bit angsty when it comes to stillness, or time alone, which is to be expected, seeing how our society places such high value on human socialization.
The key difference between loneliness and solitude is how we respond to our time alone. As summarized by Sara Maitland, the author of How To Be Alone, if you’re alone and you don’t like it, you could be experiencing a certain type of loneliness.
Why We’re Suspicious Of Being Alone
As a culture at large, we receive mixed messages on the relevance and benefit of solitude. On one hand, we live in an individualistic society that promotes the use and exercise of free will. Ours is a culture that generally celebrates the expression of individuality, pizazz, or creativity. We encourage self-promotion, self-esteem, self-preservation, self-care, and even a good selfie on “The Gram”. So, where’s the gap? While we seem to flaunt our sense of individualism as a modern society, the rules and norms are still vague and often constricting. We are now living in a hyper-connected world, where we feel the unwavering desire to stay in touch, check-in, follow and keep up, refresh, respond, and so on.
In our capitalistic society, we encourage managing our relationships like a business; finding people who have high social access or visibility, and equating that with high ROI. In this case, is there any room for solitude? If I spend too much time alone, am I losing relevance? If I go to dinner by myself or sit in solace for an hour or two, what message is that sending about my social status? Am I at risk of losing followers or friends? Some of us just feel “too busy” to be with solitude. There’s always something else that is seemingly better or more profitable to do with our time. I even have friends who’ve shared, “to be honest, silence is boring”.
For those who transcend societal pressure on a much deeper level, they may ask: what will I be forced to confront or feel if I practice stillness? Am I ready to go there? All these questions contribute to a general sense of suspicion and reluctance towards solitude. The messages we receive from our culture about how to actualize some of the valued principles like healthy self-esteem, glamorous self-care routines, etc., are often mixed and unclear. But the redeeming truth is that we may have to compromise our culture of hyper-connectivity and fear in order to truly edify, protect, and celebrate our culture of individualism.
At the root, solitude provides us the simple yet sublime opportunity to enjoy the satisfaction of being an individual; that is to feel and to exist. So, with a bit of moxie, we can grow less suspicious of solitude and maybe eventually learn to surrender to it.
Let Sovereignty Reign
Whether you’ve been suspicious of solitude because you don’t have the time, or because it feels awkward, or because it could potentially dampen your social capital or a combination of factors, it’s worth asking ourselves if anything could be more important and precious than attending to our inner life and nurturing inner wellness. Further, which factors have been posing as distractions from valued time from self? When we challenge ourselves with these questions, we may find that once we release the perception of busyness, fear of awkwardness, and pressure of social relevance, what we have left is our deserving, interesting inner self longing for some quality time. This type of inner-intimacy takes practice but is invaluable.
Here are 3 key benefits of being alone that I think we should all take into consideration:
- The opportunity to self-wean from compulsive sociability: Otherwise known as Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO to millennials. This is the addiction to news, events, and trends that are often used to consistently fill what is perceived as a void left by aloneness. Practicing solitude can balance or restructure our relationship with social media. Additionally, it can temper the sting of loneliness because you are no longer reaching for socialization from a deficit perspective.
- Become more deeply connected to others: Now this may sound oxymoronic, but practicing solitude helps rebuild a truer sense of community. While loneliness is typically generated from a lack of connectedness, intentionally spending time alone helps us redefine our intrapersonal ethics, explore our emotional vulnerabilities, and thus create more intimate and enduring relationships with others. Davies (1996) concluded, “The practice of solitude is conceived as directly impacting social relationships, by deepening them, and making them more real and less superfluous”.
- Develop impeccable discernment: Perceiving alone time as good and useful while practicing it, allows us to flex our self-awareness muscle. When we are aware of ourselves, how we think, what matters to us, and how we manage our morality, we gain a sense of clarity around our own authenticity. It then becomes easier to make gut decisions that we feel good about.
Tanya Davis, the author of How To Be Alone, collaborated with a talented illustrator to beautifully animate her poem. This poem highlights several opportunities to put solitude into practice, how to manage anxiety around it, as well as how to revel in the joy of it. I invite you to watch, listen to, giggle at, and chew on the warm, fuzzy message she sends.
If we give ourselves the opportunity for solitude, we can free ourselves from FOMO. We can allow our true selves to unfold and deepen our meaningful relationships. Ultimately, we can better navigate our internal world; where our imagination and creativity can blossom and flourish. What’s more, we can explore and reconnect with our discerning intuition. A source that requires our silence and deserves our undivided attention.
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