Thoughts & Things

Why we should spend more time alone?

May 10, 2020

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?

Mastering solitude

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.

The takeaway

              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.

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  • Reply
    Fr. Jijo Kandamkulathy
    May 11, 2020 at 5:39 am

    Voluntarily chosen solitude has proven to be my most creative period of my life. Interestingly my holidays were never my solitude time. Not even retreats gave me that kind of luxury. Covid did give me some!
    Solitude also brings you face to face with your own demons. Learning to tackle them will be a great success when you are on the other side of the solitude. I rember to have read somehwere (Emerson?) that Ability is tamed lonliness.
    I also deeply realize that solitude is instrumental and not and end. It should energize, otherwise, it is just depression!
    Who enjoys solitude, I believe may depend on the personality natures like, introvert or extrovert.

    Good writing as alwasy, Bobby

    • Reply
      Boby George
      May 11, 2020 at 7:56 am

      You are right. It depends how one makes best use of it. As you rightly pointed out , if anyone really understand the huge potential of solitude , they will crave for the same. Thanks always , for reading and the valuable comments.

  • Reply
    Sr. Sheena George
    May 31, 2020 at 5:22 am

    Being in a religious Sister, we have a practice of sitting for meditation for a half-hour in the morning and the evening.
    In the beginning years, it was a hard practice. The moment you sit in quietness, your mind started to wander; for that matter, after 27 years, it still wanders. But what I learned after all these years of practice of meditation is that, when we meditate, we are becoming more aware and notice our thoughts. In the ordinary state of mind, we don’t notice our wandering mind; we are busy thinking about this and thinking about that. But when we meditate more and more, we experience moments of stillness, and one becomes present to one’s body. We realize that when we think about the past or the future, we are allowing our minds to wander. As a result, we are either chasing after the past, or we are chasing the future.
    In meditation, we realize that we have a choice. Either we can allow the mind to rest or we can allow the mind to think about the past or worry about the future. The question for me was, how can I allow the mind to rest…. What worked and still working for me is the gentle determination and gently calling the wandering mind back and gently allowing the mind to be within the body. This stillness and solitude is the most peaceful moment one can experience. This solitude, this still mind gives a lot of energy, clarity, compassion, kindness. Compare to the busy mind, which is agitated and tired the restful mind is so peaceful.
    This peaceful mind has given me the most significant awareness that I am not alone in this journey; God is with me in every breath, I no need to be in control of every situation, I am just an instrument for God to do God’s work.

    • Reply
      Boby George
      June 13, 2020 at 9:25 am

      That’s wonderful. If anyone is able to find that solitude every day, it will transform him. As you rightly said, we have an obsession for the past and future. The moment you learn how to tame your mind and keep it still, you begin a new life.

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