I was an ailing child and most of my very young years were spent in bed, with my self and my books. So being alone became a necessity at first and then a space where I roamed free with my mental melodies and dreams.
As I grew older and became part of a new, large family it was strange to see that every time I sat alone someone came along and said, “Don’t sit by yourself! Come join us!”
Today I find that in our society, the attitude towards solitude is deeply confused. And this confusion strengthens the fear we develop towards being alone. In fact, we are forever in a flux between aloneness and being lonely, the eternal emotional pendulum. We are taught to value personal freedom, fulfillment and individualism more than ever before, yet we’re so terrified of being alone. Our young generations grow up valuing self-esteem, to be worthy in and of ourselves_ then how come we can’t be intimate with ourselves and intimate with our own inner life?
It is the cultural baggage we carry…I think it’s a generational legacy from way back in time. In fact, I learned that the word “spinster” was used in the Middle Ages for someone who spun the thread well and wove fine fabric. This made her financially self-sufficient so she could choose to marry freely and not because of needy desperation.
We’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we?
Today aloneness is treated as loneliness which is assumed to be a dreadful state to be. In the words of Maitland, “we’re considered to be sad, mad and bad if we have chosen to flout social norms and be alone. So we insulate ourselves from the risk of aloneness by accumulating a vast network of social ties as a kind of insurance policy. But we soon realize that there is no guarantee for this protection.”
The stigma of being single has judgment on it because there is an underlying fear of those that dare to be radically different from us and we turn hostile to the unfamiliar.
According to most psychologists loneliness comes with settling for less than we deserve or reaching for that which we feel we cannot attain. I’ve often heard people talk about feeling lonely in a crowd….yes, and it is incurable by company! The truth is that we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the people who surround us. A relationship isn’t a ticket to happiness!!
Is that why a lot more people are choosing to go solo? And could aloneness be finding freedom in the very same isolation we choose? And when are we truly free? When we are with another because we WANT to rather than from the fear of being left out, we do not then have a desperate need to be included as though we need others to affirm us because we feel we may not exist if they don’t!
So it is all in the attitude… how we define loneliness and aloneness. Certainly loneliness has severe results causing physical disease, heart problems and even dementia. Whereas, according to my experience, aloneness is absolutely essential for a feeling of fulfillment and wholeness. Solitude creates healthier relationships since we don’t relate from a needy or greedy space.
I tend to agree with Maitland when she explains, “I would rather be described as having a rich inner life, spiritual, sensitive, reflective than the opposite and extroverted. We admire the life of an intellectual rather than a salesman.”
But how do we attain this self-reliance in an environment that worships the extrovert ideal? My suggestions, of course, come from what works for me. My trust is enhanced when:
a. I increase my creativity.
b. Learn a new skill.
c. Involve myself with nature.
d. Get spiritually connected through meditation and other internal practice.
e. Random acts of kindness.
Life is a medley of challenges and through these we grow to be self-reliant and independent. We learn who our friends are and who is an acquaintance. I learned that I’d rather be alone than be with people who make me feel alone. Solitude made me strong enough to realize that life was as good as I wanted it to be….and with every experience we hurt or laugh and then we grow.