Facing the idea of solitude conjures up fear. A general uncomfortable feeling of silence. No one around telling us what to think or do can be unnerving. Along with that silence, comes an uneasiness with the unknown. Who are we without others around?
Solitude for the enlightened few, is a source of enjoyment and calm. But when forced, solitude brings little joy or comfort. At least not at the onset. Being compelled into isolation during the pandemic, even for a short time, was excruciating for so many.
When thrust upon us we resist solitude’s presence with all our might. We vehemently deny that being alone could possibly be good for us. Or that getting to know ourselves without round the clock distractions is somehow vital to our survival.
What makes solitude or being alone with ourselves and our own thoughts so terrifying?
Right as the pandemic began, my daughter was living alone in a studio apartment in Portland, OR. She was working hard to keep the demons of her substance use disorder at bay. AA and NA meetings were not meeting in person and zoom was the mode of operation. In the beginning, she voiced her hatred of zoom. As time went on zoom became a sporadic lifeline to recovering addicts all over the world, my daughter included. She learned to feel their energy in new ways.
Being able to feed off the physical energy of others, was how she survived prior to 2020. Helping others help themselves at the risk of her own recovery is how she excused and further buried her own demons.
She relapsed two times in 2020. They were short as were many of her relapses. And I believe, as she does now, the pandemic encouraged her to come face to face with herself. The raw and trauma filled truth of who she had become. She no longer wanted to put up with her own bullshit. Her words.
Living alone allowed her the respite she so desperately needed to face the whys of her substance use. The constant noise and activity of those around her when forced to reside in a house of recovering addicts finally fell silent.
Throughout all the recovery programs she experienced, the times she was allowed solitude were the most fruitful. This is where she began to feel gratitude for what she had gone through, to decipher the silver linings and begin healing. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Both her dad and I are of the “solitude is vital” camp.
The day she began appreciating periodic detachments from the outside world, is the day I knew she would be okay.
We Are Never Really Alone
For me, when working alone in my studio or writing, I see and feel the presence of personal connections from the past, present and future everywhere. My soul is always connecting, on some level, to every single person, place and thing I come in contact with throughout my life. It is both gratifying and overwhelming. And takes being alone to come to this conclusion.
I will be driving down the road by myself and all of sudden a personal memory or vision pops into my head. This recollection is often related to something I am presently working through. Or it may be prompted by an image or action currently in play.
The flashback serves as a reminder of something that often is not immediately clear. But will be eventually, if allowed. Which is vital if that revelation is to have any significance.
This kind of reminiscence does not happen when you are surrounded by the minutia of everyday life and people. Our monkey minds cannot fully grasp them when we are constantly distracted. And most folks do not or can not take the time to recognize these epiphanies. Often because they are afraid of the implications.
These personal revelations can only happen when it is just you alone with your soul.
My daughter knows this now. And I see it so much more clearly because of her experience.
Stereotypes and the Side Affects
Society dictates who we are from birth. Sad, frustrating, but true. From clothing to toys, gender roles to career paths, to worn out unrealistic traditions and expectations.
How can we possibly get to know who the hell we are and feel a level of comfort in our own skin when stereotyping has us flagged from the beginning. And so many of us except these as truths or at least as the path we must take in order to survive.
Pigeonholing is such a lazy way of assessing humanity.
Granted there are many standards of behavior or needs we all share. The foundation of human survival are common among us all, such as the need for food, water, shelter, sleep. Beyond those basics, our lives develop and diverge based upon upon lived experiences and our individual DNA.
When we do not give ourselves the time and space to feel and be who we are, our mental health languishes. We become shadow figures and slaves to the environment in which we unconsciously trap ourselves.
The goals we set, often leave us dissatisfied. Because more often then not those mile markers were set by societal standards and target marketing, not by us. Must we follow so called “trends” that do not account for the disruptions that occur in our own lives? Or are we constantly hit upside the head and told to buck up and keep robotically moving no matter what?
It agonizingly complicated. Which further cements the need for some silence and solitude if we are to sidestep being hammered into the submission of popular opinion via marketing and ridiculously imposed traditions.
Coming to Grips with Solitude
The secret is out that society has been experiencing a mental health crisis for decades. More recent world events will tell you that continually shoving mental health issues under the rug leads to the death and destruction of humans. And eventually the demoralization of humanity.
Thankfully, more and more people are opening up about their struggles. They have taken the time to dive into who they are at the core. Searching and exploring their souls. Facing traumas and stereotypes that have plagued them for years. Only individuals can do this for themselves and by themselves.
Parts of society are slower to realize the necessity of self reflection through solitude. Many have been riding the wave of that good life they’ve forged for themselves. So why bother? Or on the other end of the spectrum, basic needs are going unfulfilled and desperation for food or place to sleep is the only thing on their radar. For some, solitude as self reflection is a luxury, not a necessity.
Too many of us get caught up in the dizzying pace of society and fail to notice we are losing the battle of self discovery. Times of solitude do not and cannot exist when you are on autopilot, no matter your station in life. Busyness persists in it’s detriment to our mental health.
Solitude: A Deeper Look at It’s Value
“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” Anonymous
We escape our personal reality every single day while immersing ourselves in the latest main street media, mass marketing or social network junk news. Essentially deserting ourselves via the lives of others. Our own family and friends are not excluded from this scenario.
To know yourself takes time and changes throughout your life. It is not easy, usually uncomfortable and will need reassessment every once in a while. You have to ask whether you feel knowing yourself is important to surviving and thriving. Do your thoughts, dreams, desires and feelings have value and purpose? Are you worth the time?
Allowing someone to control your narrative is giving up. Each of us are responsible to and for ourselves. For some, that responsibility is too much. People everywhere, everyday give up their identities in the name of someone else. We all have been subject to this control on some level in our lives. Fearing the truth about who we are makes us hesitant to step out of the shadows.
I say, take small steps.
Solitude — A Renewed Light
The value we place upon who we are and the connections we make throughout our lives will not only serve us when we are in solitude, but enhance our lives when we are in the presence of others.
We are the only ones who can truly know or understand who we are and what we want. The only way we can truly focus on that understanding is to periodically be alone with ourselves. The pandemic gave many of us that opportunity whether we wanted it or not.
I have been somewhat of a loner most of my life, not physically, but in my head. The pandemic has given me renewed perspective regarding solitude as a means to my personal survival. Tuning out the world and looking inward through silence, creating, walking in nature, writing, reading, listening to music are my means of survival via solitude.
“Without solitude, no serious work can take place” — Pablo Picasso.
Image — Latent Muse, mixed media monotype
I chose “Latent Muse” to accompany this article because of the figure that leans in quiet reflection. Resting, still, alone within a cocoon-like environment shielding her from any distractions. I imagine wrapping myself in a blanket sitting in front of a fire, watching the flames jump and recede or closing my eyes feeling the warmth. Delighting in all of it, recognizing the joy in my soul that I am giving myself time and space to be alone. Even if only for a short time.