We are living at a time when all of us remain connected more than at any time in history. The main business of some of our most valuable companies is to connect people. There is hardly a time when we are alone now. Is this the best scenario for us or how about some time with ourselves every day? Does it make any sense that we are distracted by various things throughout the day? What is the cost of such a distraction? Should we all be spending more time alone which can perhaps add more value to our lives?
The feeling of loneliness
For a vast majority of human beings, the most dreaded feeling is loneliness. This is no surprise as man is a social animal and we seek the presence and approval of others always. No matter how wealthy we are or whatever we have, it pains to have none around us to share that feeling of abundance. Whether in the family or in school or in workplaces we don’t like to be left alone. Not having friends can make most people depressed. Look at these. The Latin locution for being alive was inter hominem esse, which literally meant ‘to be among men’. Similarly, to be dead was inter hominem esse desinere or ‘cease to be among men’. See how even life and death are defined in terms of the company we keep and accordingly extreme loneliness is considered equal to or worse than death. For the same reason, there are people who consider that solitary confinement is a tougher punishment than capital punishment. Such is the revulsion loneliness causes among people. Even if some people can live without food for a few days, they will find it very hard to live alone. Man’s desire for a company has its evolutionary origins too. The probability of a group of people surviving was always far more than somebody making it alone. The incredible human progress over thousands of years is due to the fact that we could come together for a common cause and work/fight as one. Here we must also remember that, if people are very happy in the company of other human beings, one’s life can be made miserable by others also. Because we are so dependent on the affection and approval of others we are also vulnerable to how they treat us. If loneliness, the situation where we are left alone causes extreme pain, solitude is different from that. If we adopt a working definition, solitude is loneliness by choice. Solitude is a state of being alone without feeling lonely. If loneliness is loathsome for almost all, solitude could be transformative and an important factor in shaping our lives. However, the tragedy is that nowadays we get far less time to be alone and enjoy the virtue of solitude. We are always in a company or distracted.
We are always in company
Nowadays it takes an effort to be alone even for a short time. Connectivity is the default condition. Added to that the overwhelming feeling that there is something wrong when one chooses to be alone. Yes, remaining connected help. But the question is don’t we all need some time to be alone and free from distractions? As we have seen at the beginning, we are the most connected of all past generations. We are either in the physical or virtual presence of others always. Now there is a commercial side too here. Our attention has a value attached to that and the cumulative value of human attention is worth millions and millions of dollars’ now. The smart technology companies grab our attention and sell it to the highest bidder and offer us entertainment and a virtual world of connectivity for free. Since it is a million-dollar business, technology is geared in such a way that it is very difficult for us to switch off even for a moment and we feel that we are losing something then.
We consume hell a lot of media and entertainment every day. Whether it is the 24X7 television channels which pour news and entertainment into our rooms or the vast network of social media which hook us with their novelty every minute it is not easy to remain unconnected unless we make a deliberate effort. We are always curious to know what is happening to our friends whether known or unknown, near or far. Whatever is the task we are indulged in, our hands reach out for the next notification or mail in our phone or computer. Are we made to be always in the company of people and always distracted? How do we address our infinite appetite for distractions which is taking a toll on our lives now? How do we master the virtue of remaining alone for some time?
Solitude is the time we give to ourselves. Unless one learns to enjoy the time to be alone it is hard to undertake any task which requires our undivided attention. In fact, it is very important that we learn to spend solitude very effectively which has a direct bearing on the way we shape our lives. It is a time to train our minds, direct our thoughts, learn the art of concentration and to look at our life deeply. Because of our negative attitude towards loneliness which is anyway different from solitude, we always struggle to fill any such time with all sorts of effortless activity without realising that we must claim a certain amount of solitude every day to enhance our lives. That is why we are always on the lookout for friends, entertainment and all sorts of excitement. However, during solitude when a person focusses on activities which require concentration which increases one’s skills and develop self he transforms his life for the better. Behind every act of a masterful creation, there is a time of solitude well spent by the creator. It is very important that we learn the art of not getting bored when we are alone. If anyone complains frequently that they are feeling bored it shows that they are yet to learn the art of being alone. Solitude is something our children should also be taught as they should never be under the impression that life is nonstop entertainment and an activity to be done only in others company. Unless they learn to be alone with concentration on a task, it will be very difficult for them to perform such things when they grow up.
Everyone should have the right for some time for themselves. If loneliness can make us gloomy, solitude can transform our lives. We are not made to remain connected and distracted always and there is no need to always search for something to fill all our free time. There are numerous ways to spend one’s time alone with things that can enrich us. Our skill lies in identifying such things which can uplift and expand us when we are alone. Though we like friendships which add value to our lives, we must never underestimate the value of time spent alone in a creative way. It takes an effort to think and create great stuff many of which depend on our ability to be alone. Attention is a priceless commodity and it is in such carefully chosen time of solitude we train it to our best advantage. People who also know how to spend time alone create a wonderful world for themselves.