Loneliness and The Art of Being Alone
Inspired by Alina Baraz's song 'Can I'
I opened my apartment door and immediately felt that aching feeling in your gut when your instincts kick into flight mode. My apartment was empty, drowning with silence. Settling with the creaks of neighbors upstairs. It was my first night living totally alone. No roommates, family, or friends to break the calm.
I grew up with a large extended family with two sisters, lots of cousins, aunts, uncles and a rotating cast of people who came in and out of my daily life. I then lived with friends all the way through college and up to just a few years ago, so the idea of living completely alone felt strange.
I dropped my bag and coat in my room, and immediately ripped off the day’s clothes to luxuriate in my underwear because, hey, I’m grown, in my own house, and I do what I want.
My mind began to race, ruminating in the fear and absurdity of aloneness. What if I get into the shower, slip on my Dove soap while belting Beyonce, and can’t get up? What if I choke on my dinner because I stay eating too fast and there’s no one here to perform that 1980s pamplet guide of the heimlich maneuver?
I was terrified of being completely alone for long periods of time, because I falsely equated being alone with being lonely as so many of us do. We villainize the path of solitude, because loneliness is deadly. We are social beings that need loving, caring relationships for survival and for happiness, but my first few weeks of solo living taught me how much my fear of aloneness affected my creativity. My biggest creative breakthroughs came in moments of aloneness and silence.
Silence and Self Reflection
Self reflection is a phrase that sounds like a lovely, serene endeavor, but most people would rather pluck their armpit hairs out one follicle at a time than sit in solitude and think. We run from our thoughts, because thoughts can sometimes be bat shit crazy, birthed from rusty, crusty old habits of the past, triggered unconsciously in the oddest of ways. Even when alone, we distract ourselves from our thoughts with whatever we can get our hands on.
The irony of this race from being alone with our thoughts is our thoughts and feelings are the source of our actions, which shapes our lives, and ultimately how we create our own happiness. The further we’re detached from the rolling (and sometimes gassy) balls of mental fires within us, the more confused and directionless we can feel.
We all crave direction, purpose, community, connection. Maybe you’ve pivoted away from the default beliefs and lifestyles of your childhood, or have made a big change in your life that has unearthed some stuff. The serenity that comes from self reflection and solitude can actually inspire you creatively and not burden you in the process of figuring this shit out.
Most of my friends would probably say I'm an extrovert -- I like being around a wide circle of people from a variety of backgrounds. I have friends from different parts of the world and from various parts of my journey, and have gained so much inspiration from my relationships and the people who have come into my life. I’ve also tapped into the depths of my own insights into what I want to create in my own life from silent reflection of my experiences.
It's no secret that many notable creators worked in solitude from Albert Einstein to Isaac Newton.
A state of peace and reflection can be hard to come by in our modern society, where our brains are sliced in a dozen directions responding to dozens of digital (cell phone, email, social media) and physical stimuli and other people’s needs.
How to Create Some Space
Take time to make structured solitude in your schedule, even if it's only for 15 minutes a day. Turn off your phone, close your computer, go outside to take a long walk to reconnect with yourself and don't be afraid of your thoughts. If things come up, note them and don’t beat yourself up. Don't be afraid of your emotions. Let your mind get completely naked and be ready for whatever comes.
Schedule some activities solo, whether it’s a dinner, or a movie or just taking a quick look through a museum. Be fully present in the experience with yourself. The only person you will live the rest of your entire life with is you, and being open to dealing with and feeling through your own thoughts, being able to balance the joy of social connection and the power of solitude, will open a new door into the universe within you.