It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you. Let silence take you to the core of life – Rumi
They say that every situation is exactly as it should be.
That we are exactly in the place we need to be at. in the present moment. And not all of us may be at peace with this, but it is how it is.
One of the key fundamentals of life and living – loneliness – has been the topic of indeed many conversations and articles, especially during the pandemic.
As seniors, we have all travelled through life’s journey(s) to arrive at where we are today. We’ve all experienced loneliness, to some degree, at some point.
How has it helped mould our perspective on the way we view ourselves and life?
Has Covid-19 brutally exposed how terribly lonely we feel? Or has it helped us find peace from that infinite space that exists within each one of us?
This said; there is a difference between solitude and loneliness:
Solitude often conjures up negative connotations such as loneliness. But most often this is a misconception. Solitude isn’t about avoiding being with other people. It’s about just being – comfortable with yourself.
Loneliness, on the other hand, has the potential to spiral us into deeper states of anxiety, stress and depression, if we don’t recognise it and take steps to address it.
Many great thinkers such as Lao Tzu, Nietzsche, and Emerson have championed the intellectual and spiritual benefits of solitude
Mystics like Hafez and Sufi poet Rumi, have penned many insights on solitude and loneliness.
Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher espoused it, ‘Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realising he is one with the whole universe.’
The beauty of solitude is about finding balance within, but herein may also lie it’s the biggest challenge; facing our own truths; being comfortable in our own skins; becoming intimate and at peace with our own minds; laying claim to that power that flows through us when we accept and express our true self.
Though the mere thought of it can be intimidating and scary at first.
It’s enlightening when we really get to spend time with our shadow side, the part of ourselves that we run from, that part of ourselves that psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung feels, just as conflict is necessary to advancing the plot of any good novel, light and dark are necessary to evolve in our personal growth.
Sure, it can bring up deep past traumas and even seem to break us, but that is exactly how we open ourselves up to the “light’’ that heals us from within.
But in its avoidance, it can also wreak havoc on one’s life in the sense that it will exert unconscious control over one’s thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions leading to repeated disillusionment.
In solitude, we learn to engage with our shadow and get enriched by its wisdom in showing us our true essence/ self.
Solitude is a place where the creative mind can happily and eagerly express itself because when we are able to disengage from the demands of other people and the world around ( to a certain extent), we suddenly free up the mental and emotional and physical space to focus on those things that have been seeking our attention for so long.
As famous inventor Nikola Tesla quite rightly said:
‘The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude.
Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind.
Be alone – that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.’
Is loneliness avoidable?
Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. Some people can go through a lifetime of loneliness- and not realise it. But it cannot be avoided. Each one of us has to experience some amount of loneliness – as it’s a natural part of life.
It can hit you like it did at the time of the pandemic, when you suddenly find yourself isolated from your friends, family and loved ones and familiar things. Loneliness can bring up feelings of panic, sadness, fear, grief, insecurity and other negative states that if prolonged can over time lead to severe states of anxiety and stress and depression
It is equally important in acceptance of the present circumstances – that, in fact, you may NOT be in acceptance of your state. To accept that you are indeed lonely, the only panacea to which is social interaction. And once you know this of yourself, use technology ( till life gets back to normal)– and all its platforms – to help keep you connected with the outside world.
Bear in mind, as human beings we are so used to pretending we are just fine, that’s why it is also possible to be with people and still feel lonely – perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.
Listen to your intuition. What is it telling you?
Solitude – a desirable state of being?
Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself.
“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”
― Albert Einstein
Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself good and sufficient company.
As human beings, we are naturally social creatures and, with the absence of others around us from birth, the development of our personality would be stunted. But equally the dysfunction of the psychological mind is pointing towards unstable mental health owing to the fear of being alone.
We can be surrounded by people but deep inside remain separate, isolated individuals. By actively taking the time to be in isolation — to sit with ourselves in a quiet peaceful harmony, we allow ourselves the freedom to find balance. It also teaches us how to manage our social interactions and time spent by ourselves in a positive way.
Extroverted people thrive primarily on social life and almost constant interaction. Social media has exacerbated this addiction by relentless external stimuli to fill one’s time and mind. But its downside can trigger feelings of deep loneliness and lack. For introverts, being home alone is an easy default.
Both introverts and extroverts ultimately need a certain amount of solitude to find harmony.
Solitude – life’s great teacher
Can a human being like solitude and still be a social being? Absolutely!
“Even though he may be physically alone, the solitary one remains united to others and lives in profound solidarity with them, but on a deeper and mystical level.” Thomas Merton
Going beyond ourselves, solitude teaches us that we are more than the sum of our social world, and our interaction with people.
Solitude is also more a state of mind than an actual physical circumstance.
You can find solitude in meditation, in prayer, going for a long walk in nature, locking yourself away for hours with just paper and pen, or joining a Vipassana retreat and other innumerable ways.
However you choose to experience it, it will teach you to become a better observer of your life and be comfortable with the inner – truths and shadows, you may have been dodging for so long.
It then rewards you with a priceless gift – the finding of your true self – the self that remains grounded, your inner light that emerges from the darkness – while watching life unfold; and going peacefully with its flow.