There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely
It was a Saturday Night. I’d been reading famous quotes on solitude, as I was writing an article on silence (I know, so rock n’ roll).
Solitude was praised by Mother Teresa, Nikola Tesla, Antony Burgess, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka and many more interesting people.
Then I googled ‘solitude’. The very first result from Wikipedia, highlighted in a little black box, rather perturbed me.
“Solitude is a state of seclusion or isolation, i.e., lack of contact with people. It may stem from bad relationships, loss of loved ones, deliberate choice, infectious disease, mental disorders, neurological disorders or circumstances of employment or situation.” — Wikipedia.
Wait a minute. This all seems… pretty bad.
I’ve just read that solitude was the answer from some of life’s most brilliant minds:
“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.” ~ Nikola Tesla
“People who do a job that claims to be creative have to be alone to recharge their batteries. You can’t live 24 hours a day in the spotlight and remain creative. For people like me, solitude is a victory.”
― Karl Lagerfeld
Not to mention the recent research that solitude can make you more successful.
Maybe we’re confusing solitude with the feeling of loneliness. It is one thing to be on your own voluntarily, taking breaks away from family, friends and the world, and quite another to be isolated.
I’ve recently moved into a flat on my own. At first, I was gripped with thoughts such as ‘ugh, this is horrible! So lonely!’ but then after a time it was replaced by a feeling of beautiful serenity.
The shift that happened?
Well, for the first week I was distracted. I focused exclusively outside myself — the tasks I had to complete, work I had to do. I was on autopilot.
But after about a week, I mentally dropped the ball and just sat ‘with myself’. It’s an awareness of the present moment, a connection with it that you just don’t get when you’re lonely. It then became incredibly enjoyable.
Perhaps loneliness is sort of a disconnection from others and also from yourself — whereas with solitude, you’re actively staying present with your own company.
Maybe loneliness can come from being somehow estranged from your connection to your own thoughts and feelings, your dreams, your hopes, your desires.
Because even if you’re surrounded by people, you still can be lonely. In fact, if you’re surrounded by people all the time, it can be incredibly hard to hear what your inner voice is saying — it’s been drowned out all your life.
So I’m in praise of solitude. It’s a truly enriching experience for those who want to fully embrace it.
Solitude can be an intentional experience. The intention is not about removing yourself from people and positive relationships, but for giving yourself moments when it’s just you and the universe.
When embracing solitude, it can be like taking a bath in the waters of silence. You dissipate into the present moment. There is sometimes no sense of ‘I’, especially in nature when moments of solitude can be so serenely beautiful.
If I was a newbie wanting to explore solitude, I might have thought twice if I’d read about it on Wikipedia or Google.
Solitude shouldn’t be terrifying. And if it is, what does that say about ourselves?
This article was first published on Medium.com