For most of us, the thought of being alone has a haunting undertone. We associate the idea with loss, loneliness and even depression. If that’s not enough, we’re bombarded with the pressure from social media. What we’re doing, what others are doing and the incessant need to share it all at once.
I have a secret to share. It’s something you have always felt but the idea gets steamrolled by your brain. It has a real thing for risk aversion, after all.
Being alone can be a gift and an excellent way to grow.
We must throw away the lies we’ve told ourselves about being alone. While we’re at it, let’s also dispel society’s discomfort with it. Because whether you like it or not, social norms play a rather huge factor in that narrative.
Loneliness Vs. Being Alone
Right away we must address the obvious. Loneliness and depression are very real, and very powerful emotional states. I’m not going to attempt to paint them in a pretty light. Neither will I breeze over any kind of solution.
Yet I will stand up and say one thing. They are not synonymous with being alone.
Thanks to embracing social media, we’re made to feel that we’re never alone. Feeling lonely while scrolling through your social feeds can be a common occurrence. Battling the anxiety of spending time alone, we turn to these community platforms. Commenting and liking posts gives us a feeling of connectedness.
The concept of community has always been attractive to humans. Even before we conquered speech, I’m willing to bet the idea of community was everpresent.
But what if we’re not unhappy? Or depressed from dealing with a loss? It is normal to desire time alone.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
The real difference is that when we are alone by choice, we can find peace by ceasing the act of seeking. Drop our guard. No longer looking for those to fill a gap that exists. By doing this we become open to introspection and peace.
Champion Your Inner Voice
How does that inner peace manifest? Silence. Questions. Quiet reflection while sitting on a grassy hill can be what we need.
When we stop worrying about being a good host, a good partner or friend, we can finally lower our guard. You’ll find that being a certain kind of person or talking a certain way is no longer needed. Even if you don’t do those things consciously, they’re present. We all have our external version of ourselves. Who we project into the world.
Who do we sound like when no one is around? When there aren’t posts to be shared. No selfies to take.
This is when your inner voice is finally allowed to speak. If you’re not comfortable being along, there’s bound to be some nonsense first. Pushback on the peace. Your inner voice may warn you of looking stupid or a fear of permanence in this state.
Give it a moment.
When that passes, you’re left with nothing other than yourself. This is where many stay during mediation. Allowing ourselves to sit with our feelings, hopes or fears, and desires can be
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu
After sitting with your own thoughts, it becomes clear which are yours and which are those of others. You can shed the dust of opinions from social media, news, and friends. What you’re left with is your own clarity of mind. Your own thoughts, no longer muddied by others.
I love my people. My community of friends. My family. But there is also something very unique about the moments when no one is around. When I have no schedule to adhere to or any place to be. Standing on the top of a cliffside with no one to describe the smell of the breeze.
When we allow ourselves to spend time alone, we are also freed up to focus on little details around us. Or grand views of the world. Even the universe. Without the need to curate our thoughts for others, we can take everything in at once and at our own speed. Think of it like taking in a deep breath, but for once not stopping short.
The urgency and importance of things become even more clear. The argument you had with that flight attendant no longer matters. The snarky email your coworker sent rolls off your back. You realize the universe is 13.7 billion years old and you haven’t even finished watching Game of Thrones.
It’s all going to be alright. But now you may be more convinced. There aren’t voices telling you that. No Pinterest quotes showing you. It’s your inner voice wondering why we never see the backside of the moon.
Make time for yourself to hang out with yourself. Whether it’s between dropping the kids off at soccer or after a long walk with your dog. Treat time alone as you would plans with a good friend.
Go to a movie alone. Solo trip to a city you’ve never seen, by yourself. Enjoy the company of strangers without the need to share or entertain. These are the moments where some of the best inspiration can strike. Or simply the peaceful realization that life may not be as difficult as you’re making it.
Embrace the value of solitude. Nothing is quite as sweet as the sound of silence — especially when it’s sought out.