Don’t Be Afraid To Be Alone

by Melissa Karnaze

single candle wicker burningWe live in a world that is increasingly connected. But whenever we gain something, we lose something as well.

The more we connect, the less time we have for solitude.

Who Wants To Be Alone?

Being alone is different from being lonely. And technically you are never alone because even when it’s just you—you have yourself to talk to!

Being alone is a necessary part of being human. In order to discover who you are, unbury your true passions, and embark on the journey of self-actualizing, you have to find your own answers, all by yourself.

No one can tell you what makes your heart sing. No one can show you what you need in order to be happy. No amount of connection you have with spiritually enlightened, genuinely caring, or incredibly bright people can substitute the inward journey you must make in order to find your true path in life.

You need peace and quiet to start this journey. You need isolation. Patience. Maybe even meditation.

You need to do it alone. This journey is only for those brave enough to go within.

But Humans Are Social, Right?

Connecting with others is also a necessary part of being human. But it has its place. And it has its time.

In his thought-provoking article, “The End of Solitude,” William Deresiewicz warns us that in our Web 2.0 culture, the need to connect with others is taking over. It leaves us no room for solitude, which is absolutely crucial to us because it “enables us to the secure the integrity of the self as well to explore it.”

The contemporary self, he says, wants two things: celebrity and connectivity. This is because the contemporary self is fixated on becoming as visible as possible (which he explains has to do with the alienating effects of suburbanization.) This is also because the contemporary self can only define itself as it relates to others.

Sure, we sometimes we need to look to others to see who we are. Our universe can be our mirror if we pay enough attention to the patterns in our life. But we cannot rely solely on others to show us who we are and who we want to be. They are not qualified to do so. And they cannot give us the answers that we can only get from going within.

But Isn’t Internet Connection A Good Thing?

The internet is changing the world for the better. But Deresiewicz sees it becoming too much of a good thing.

Too much internet magnifies the human impulse to look outwardly for what can only be found within. That impulse is also known as codependency, or believing that something outside of ourselves holds the key to our happiness, or the key to our worth.

Deresiewicz says: “A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired to the electronic hive…The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity.”

More and more of us are becoming concerned with the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers we have. And that if we don’t check our e-mail every ten minutes, we will miss out on something important.

“Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.”

[You can read the article here. It's very insightful and it will enlighten you on the psychology of the contemporary self trapped in the 2.0 web. If you find it worthwhile, Digg it here. You can also listen to Nora Young's Spark interview with Deresiewicz about this article.]

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Alone

For you to become more mindful of the constructs you create in your life—the values you live by and the belief systems you operate from—you need to spend some quality alone time.

You need to invest in your relationship with yourself. It will make you more available in all of your other relationships. It will make those relationships more valuable.

Solitude allows you to go into the world, or onto the web, with a strong sense of you who are. It allows you to connect with others in meaningful ways. Solitude helps you to become who you are, and share your story with others. So don’t be afraid to sit still and listen.

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Shaila March 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

I love being alone. I have space to explore who i am and who I want to be. I have time to explore What of the things that I encounter fit me and how I really feel about each of these things.

Its too easy to never really get to who I am if I don’t have time alone to explore all this.

Great writing!!! I love it.

Melissa Karnaze March 24, 2009 at 9:33 am

Thanks Shaila. I cherish my alone time too. It isn’t always polite, and it isn’t always socially accepted… but it is *so* worth it.

Karol Gajda August 22, 2009 at 10:55 am

Melissa, I love this! I wasn’t good at being alone until a couple of years ago. I couldn’t fathom going out to eat alone much less traveling the world alone. Now if there’s something I want to do, I do it whether it’s alone or with friends. It’s important not to rely on others to do what you want. Growing stronger and more confident in yourself aside, doing certain things alone can actually be more fun than doing them with others.

Melissa Karnaze August 22, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Thanks Karol. Yeah, eating out alone can be quite scary when you’re not comfortable being alone! Especially if you’re worried about what other people think of you… because they sure aren’t eating alone — no, they wouldn’t have gone out if they couldn’t convince a friend to come along. :p

It’s so great to hear that you don’t need others’ presence as permission to do want you want to do. The right company is priceless, but so it the right solitude.

Miche October 20, 2009 at 8:48 am

Hi Melissa,

I’m really enjoying your insights here. I came across your blog on a “recommended woman bloggers” list, and I’m glad I found it. My best friend is a therapist and I often gain insights into theories from her, but it’s nice to have discovered a blog that explores them… so thanks for putting it together. I also like the name “mindful construct”. :)

I think cultivating a practice of solitude is so important for well-being yet so many are very uncomfortable with it. (I recently wrote a post “How to Get from Boredom to Intuition” http://bit.ly/MCeQ8 which was just one little spin on it).

I often take a day of solitude, away from the internet, information, technology, people, and all the distractions available to me. Sometimes I need more than a day. But what happens when I do that is I come face to face with thoughts and feelings that I may not have acknowledged otherwise, things that I need to process, that I can’t discover without that solitude.

I usually “know” that I need to do this when I’m wandering around aimlessly and restless going from one distraction to the next, avoiding solitude altogether. Somewhat ironically, that for me is the biggest clue that what I really *need* is the total opposite of what I’m doing!

Cheers, and thanks for sharing this.
Miche :)

Melissa Karnaze October 20, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Miche, thank you for your lovely comment. And thank you for reminding me that day-breaks, amidst the internet-drenched workstyle, are in order! :)

I think it’s really perceptive how you pin down “wandering around aimlessly and restless going from one distraction to the next,” because, speaking strictly internet here, it’s super easy to use link after link after link after link to fuel that kind of compulsive behavior. And I speak from experience.

Thanks for sharing your beautiful article as well, just left a comment. :)

Mike December 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm

We seldom learn from or enjoy solitude as we see it as a negative. We see being alone as a symptom of what we see as a disease(being unpopular). I will start to devote some time to me, no phone, internet, tv, etc. See where my journey of self discovery takes me. thanks great article.

Melissa Karnaze December 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

Hi Mike, yes, it’s the “unpopular” or “disease” labeling that interferes with the self-awareness that we need to make any relationship work. The holidays are a great time to take some solitude.

Alex August 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I kinda wish that people stop treating “being alone” as “illness”.
There are a lot of negative stigma of being alone in our society.
I myself really enjoy my alone time. But, people often criticized me for that. They treat it as “abnormal” and other pretty labels. I think their attitude is rooted in insecurity and fear, especially fear of being alone.

Thank you for this awesome post. You really done great work on this. Keep up the good work!

gribz September 6, 2012 at 1:50 am

how cooll, people questioning their experience and connecting to others with similar questions, i’m kind of fascinated that 6 billlion people live alone in their minds, no one can see into them, its interesting, its kinda like its meant
to be and that communicating in whatever way is secondary. i’m beginning to learn that being alone aint soo bad!!!!!!!!! i’m really glad that we dont have collective minds yuk being stuck in say a religous mindset or some totalitarian propoganda.
I’ve actiually just broken agreements that i made in blind faith earlier in my life, ive been punished for it but i now feel mopre free than ever!!!

BH November 19, 2012 at 2:46 am

Try being alone on a personal level (and in consequence being lonely like hell) for over 30 years and things get put into perspective. Yes, it is possible to survive. The question always is: what for?

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