“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Try this: Sit in a room by yourself. Truly, and completely by yourself. No t.v., no phone, no books, no music, no people. Free of all noises and the words of other people. How does it make you feel? Bored? Nervous? Anxious? Lonely? If it’s anything but positive, you have some inner work to do.
The first time I ever did this, for about an hour, I had to force myself to stay there. I felt a weight on my chest, I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I recognized the feeling: complete and total anxiety. I felt like the only person left in the world. I felt completely alone. I was Tom Hanks in Castaway, and looked around the room for an object I could draw a face on.
In his 2009 essay “The End Of Solitude,” William Deresiewicz writes, “The more we keep aloneness at bay, the less we are able to deal with it and the more terrifying it gets.”
I was reminded of something I’ve heard many times: We come into this world alone, and we go out of this world alone. I had never feared death more than when I was sitting by myself in silence. I had visions of myself dying, and floating around a big black hole, completely alone. Why did I have such a big fear of being alone? I questioned everything about who I am as a person. Who am I separate from my family? Separate from my friends? What words come from my own mind when nobody else is around to fill in the blanks?
I questioned who I am as an individual outside my marriage. Who am I without a man? Who am I when I’m not seeking the approval of men? My husband and I often talk about how grateful we are to be together out of love when so many couples stay together out of a fear of being alone.
As an adult, you are easily capable of keeping yourself alive: you can feed yourself, put on clothes, and be generally independent. So, why do we fall apart at the idea of taking care of our own emotional well-being? Many people stay in bad relationships, hang out with people they don’t like, and even watch t.v. shows they aren’t interested in just for the white noise in the background. We fear being alone so much that the idea of silence is completely terrifying.
In a Psychology Today article, Ester Buchholz says, “Invariably, solitude meets with social questioning, if not censure. Even worse, people associate going it alone with antisocial pursuits and unnecessary risk taking. Perhaps most striking, solitude conjures up pangs of loneliness.”
Sitting alone in public at a restaurant, bar, or movie theater has a social stigma attached to it. It’s assumed that anyone who goes out alone in public must be lonely, have no friends, and/or is a complete loser. To sit and enjoy your own company is frowned upon in most public settings, that is, unless you have your nose buried in your phone. I’ve had friends tell me that if they are sitting alone at a bar and don’t want to be embarrassed, they scroll through Facebook so it looks as if they are busy talking to someone.
The Dalai Lama once said, “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others.”
While being social is important to your well-being, solitude is just as important. You cannot truly know yourself if you are constantly among a cacophony of voices drowning out your own.
How can you enjoy solitude?
1. Sit by yourself, in complete silence
Start with 10 minutes at a time and work your way up to 1 hour if you can. You can use this time to meditate or you can simply sit with your eyes open and see where your thoughts take you.
2. Embrace nature
Nothing makes you feel more connected to God, The Universe, Mother Nature, etc. than sitting outside and listening to nothing but rustling leaves, chirping birds, and breathing in fresh air.
In the 2015 Helsinki Alert of Biodiversity and Health report, author Leena von Hertzen along with leading experts concluded that “the loss of habitat due to urbanization has caused a massive loss of biodiversity and this loss of biodiversity impacts our health. Our disconnection from nearby nature is a prime reason why allergies, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease and even some forms of cancer have become epidemics. The same is true for mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.”
3. Free Write
In her book “The Artist’s Way,” author Julia Cameron instructs readers to write 3 pages of continuous thoughts every morning, regardless of grammar, punctuation, or any kind of editing, just your thoughts.
Cameron says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages, they are not high art. They are not even ‘writing.’ They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
There is nobody else on this earth who will ever love, care, and listen to you as much as yourself. If ever you are feeling lonely, take a look in the mirror and give yourself a wave; meet your new best friend.