The Lies (and Rewards) of Aloneness

The Lies (and Rewards) of Aloneness

Most of us will go to extreme lengths to avoid being alone with our thoughts. In fact, a recently-published study found that given a choice between sitting doing nothing and giving themselves electric shocks, two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose the latter.

I’m reminded of Louis C.K.’s brilliant, tragi-comic bit about smartphones: “That’s why we text and drive… people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”

Last week, I travelled with my family to a remote, rugged piece of Canada’s west coast, and I promised myself before we left that I would give myself the gift of some time with myself. I was looking forward to it – the wide open spaces of the coastal landscape are the perfect place to open one’s mind and breath. But following through on that commitment to myself was so much harder than I expected. I put it off until after I’d finished some work I’d brought with me. I put it off until I’d cleared just a few more emails out of my inbox. I put it off until literally everyone was out of the house, on the last day of our vacation, and I knew that this was my last opportunity to be alone with myself before returning home.

So I finally, finally closed my laptop, books, and bedroom door, took a few breaths looking out at the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks below, and closed my eyes. I spent a couple of hours meditating, doing visualizations, and writing.

And this simple thing was the greatest gift I have given myself in recent memory.

What stood in my way? The lies I tell myself: the lie that delivering on the promises I’ve made to other people are what gives my life meaning and value; the lie that staying busy is the same as being productive; and greatest of all, the lie that being alone with myself will make me feel disconnected. 

If it’s true that 95% of adults can find time for a leisure activity but 83% spend no time whatsoever just thinking, we could stand to ask ourselves a few questions. Here’s your weekly curiosity experiment:

  • What are you afraid of when you find yourself avoiding being alone?
  • What actually happens when you spend time alone with yourself? 
  • How might you give yourself the gift of time to simply think?

4 Comments

  1. Joe Cardilo

    It’s funny you mentioned that Louis CK bit, I watched a short stage piece last night where they used the audio from that to bookend examples of how the content of the modern connected life is ruled by the act(s) of connection – the push notifications, text messages, alerts, warnings, cautions, suggestions, etc…

    I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, and wrote a piece about the push and pull of modern life – in part inspired by your post on online communities a few weeks ago. Like you I’ve put some thought into how and when I use the various platforms and technologies, and have turned a lot of it off.

    In Native American cultures self and surroundings are not treated as separate, compartmentalized experiences. If your inner life isn’t well then your surroundings aren’t well, and vice versa. In part because of that I place a lot of importance in being alone…there are things you learn in solitude that you simply can’t learn elsewhere. It helps me explore the shape of my heart and mind, and it also gives me the ability to love and appreciate the people in my life.

  2. Ali Shapiro

    Lauren – this was so so great. I too loved that Louis CK example (I just like him…he’s a raging feminist!).

    I think what is a challenge for me being disconnected is the actual physical irritation. IT’s like all the stimulation is stored in my body. I’m big into metaphor and I find it fascinating that all of us are referred to as “consumers” more than citizens. That act of consuming, especially media, really creates a physical stimulation that makes being alone with it irritating to me…which is then why I reach for some more soothing stimulation to comfort me (like connecting with someone in real life, online, etc).

    I find if I can sit with that physical discomfort for a bit, either by walking or going to a great yoga class, I find it easier to disconnect and be alone.

    This weekend I had time alone and returned to journaling. What I found emotionally challenging was in the past, I had lots of ideas, things I was pondering in my journal. This time, I felt less clarity and really just tired of myself! This was surprising to me as I am pretty comfortable being with myself. But I do feel if I can disconnect more, a creative well will return. So that’s what is inspiring me to spend more time alone…a return to that richness and connection with life and my deeper self.

    Thanks for this piece. As always, your writing and ideas are spot on!

    • Joe Cardilo

      I have this same problem a fair amount, sometimes it’s important to simply acknowledge the exhaustion / weariness. That’s information the heart and mind need, too (though it usually means I’m overextended in other ways).

  3. Nick M

    Beautiful & poignant article thank you – I have the ‘gift’ of chronic daily migraines, so consequently get to spend a fair bit of time alone – at times I get to appreciate it & at times the pain is too much and leaves me frustrated that I can’t be ‘ more productive’ – it is however a gift in one sense that I can see the space that is present and waiting for us all, when we manage to work out how to stop for a minute.

    great post thank you ! N 🙂