The Fear and Fervour of Being Alone
All great and precious things are lonely — John Steinbeck
In the book “Alchemist,” written by Paulo Coelho, the protagonist says to a boy, who is in search of his destiny and is afraid that his heart will have to suffer, “he needs to tell his heart that fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” He further says:
“…no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
Like fear of suffering, fear of being alone or lonely is also worse than being alone. The fear, or more simply the phobia of being alone, in my view, is perhaps responsible for more unhappiness, more pain, and more pent up misery than the actual state of being alone.
Before we could go further and discover that being alone is not a misery but a blessing in disguise, it is important to know the difference between “being lonely” and “being alone” or untangle the two concepts. And while there is some overlap between them, they are completely different concepts.
According to psychologists, being alone is physical condition or state. It is a state of isolation or “solitude” when one is outside the company of others. It is also, often, considered a luxury in these times of an extreme busy (though not necessarily productive)lives. In short, it is a state or point in time, often desirable, when you don’t have or don’t want anyone near you to take some respite from everyday life or because you are just an introvert who prefers to spend most of their time alone rather than being with other people. Moreover while alone, you are happy by yourself without wishing for the company of others. You don’t have any feelings of abandonment or rejection. You don’t feel cut off from society. Most concisely, you are a lone wolf who knows how to walk alone. You even celebrate being a loner.
Being lonely, on the other hand is a mental condition or emotional state where you feel disconnected, rejected, dejected, unwanted, and, sometimes, even vanquished. You may be surrounded by people including family and friends but not really relating beyond a surface level. In other words, you may even be lonely in a crowed. Loneliness is a condition that can also be defined subjectively as a painfully experienced absence of social contact, belongingness, or acceptance. You have a feeling of sadness because your social and emotional needs are not being met. I also means that you are not happy in your own company.
According to psychologists, feelings of loneliness can also lead to despair and depression. Or may be being alone for very long time just leaves you sad and longing for company. In precise words, lonely feels almost thrust upon you, as if it is not of your choosing. As a result of these feelings, lonely people have a strong sense of estrangement that makes them unable to integrate with fellow human beings including friends and family.
However, what they don’t know is that to live alone or in solitude is to be aware of our own unique existence and meaning. Thus they need to shift their focus to move into a new understanding of solitude being necessary to replenish, renew and rediscover themselves. They need to differentiate between being lonely and being alone to cultivate the art of enjoying one’s own company and to create a powerful space for soul searching, self reflection, and ultimately true self soothing that is essential for their mental and emotional stability as well as resilience.
It is a common knowledge that lions, eagles, and whales are also mostly solitary creatures and at the same time rulers of their respective kingdoms of earth, air and water. Moreover sun and moon are also alone but still shine and strive to provide energy for life to continue on earth. Moon, with its pure solitude and tranquility is fascinating as well as soul soothing. Thus being alone is a positive condition that makes you brave, self reliant and able to think clearly and deeply. You have the great opportunity to unlearn many negative traits (such as jealousy, competition, and chasing illusions in the name of success that ultimately lead to frustration and depression) and learn to be truly yourself, not allowing the society to influence and thus mould you into someone that you don’t want to and shouldn’t become.
Thus instead of being fearful and feeling insecure, we should warmly and whole heartedly embrace solitude as an opportunity for self-discovery and thus self realization (or self-actualization)that is necessary for the fulfilment of our personal potential in life. According to some pandits, self realization is the knowledge and embodiment of our “True Nature” or “Higher Self” beyond the ego. This realization is not possible if we are always busy and living in a noisy world.
Some characteristics that distinguished self-actualized people from the rest of humanity are given below:
- Self-actualized people are accepting of others’ as well as their own flaws, often with humor and tolerance. Not only do self-actualized people fully accept others, they are also true to themselves rather than pretending in order to impress others (Talevich, 2017).
- Self-actualized people also tend to be independent and resourceful: they are less likely to rely upon external authorities to direct their lives (Martela & Pessi, 2018).
- Can cultivate deep and loving relationships with others.
- Tendency to exude gratitude and maintain a deep appreciation even for the commonplace blessings in life.
- Can often discern between the superficial and the real (or down to earth?) when judging situations.
- Seldom depend upon their environment or culture to form their opinions.
- Tendency to view life as a mission which calls them to a purpose beyond themselves.
This shows that people who prefer to live alone are not necessarily anti-social but enjoy their time being alone and don’t seek out a lot of interpersonal contact either.
More recently, a 2003 paper explored how solitude was associated with “freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spirituality.” Being alone “reduces the need for impression management without imposing a pattern of behavior to which one feels pressure to conform,” that paper found.
Moreover, the historian Yuval Noah Harari explains in his best-seller how we Sapiens dominated Neanderthal thanks to this ability to form organized and coordinated human groups thousands of years ago. And as some scholars postulate, in the 21st century, human societies have reached a unique level of concentration and complexity. Caught up in this sophisticated network of interactions, contemporary Sapiens are forced to abdicate an ever-greater part of their freedom in order to find their place in the human community. Thus being able to live alone also means liberation or freedom from the societal demands and pressures. Schopenhauer expresses this in stark terms:
Solitude also ignites the fire of creativity and imagination and brings out the best in humans.
Jane Austen, a renowned English novelist would live in a countryside with people all around. But she used to remain aloof. She observed the lives of the people of her class and wrote about them when she was in solitude. She would write her novels in a small room. That solitary place sparked her imagination and she produced masterpieces like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and others which are still read with great interest and performed with great skill.
Remember that everything is within you and material world is just an illusion. You just need to escape your social self to find your real self hidden deep inside you. And as someone has said “all the wonders you seek are within your self.”
Rumi also famously said that you are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.”
“The heart will ache, the soul will feel weary, and the mind will be weighed down by the things you wish to forget. There will be nights when all you have is yourself and the moon. There will be nights when silence will exist in abundance. And even though you may feel lonely at first. You must understand that the solitude is a gift; you must understand that even when alone, you are more than enough.”
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Life is a name of struggle and everyone of us is thus constantly struggling to overcome challenges, obstacles…
v) Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harar, Albin Michel 2015.