On the thorny issue of ‘being alone.’

Alone

I picked up an interesting book at the library on Sunday, as my close followers will know I often do.  The title is How To Be Alone and its on the issue of how so often in modern society we are told that it’s not good to be alone or to spend too much time in solitude, that it is more natural for us as human beings to socialise or be sociable.  If you think about it a lot of how we feel about spending time alone does relate to how we were related to when young, but we might not also have come in with a bias to be more introverted, or is that just something that happens to us when significant early relationships fail?  The book has really got me thinking.

I don’t know how many of you have been in relationships where you were told it wasn’t natural for you to be introspective or need your alone time.  I went through one significant relationship like this and it was also something I was told a lot by family members.  They did not seem to realise that when certain traumas and separations hit me both in early childhood and later adolescence/early adulthood I was left to cope alone.  So I can just naturally get on with my life in solitude, I do spend a lot of time in that solitude though thinking about others, its not just all self obsessive thinking I engage with when alone.

The author of the book Sara Maitland makes convincing arguments for the healthy and soul nurturing aspects of solitude or being alone.  Of course solitude is a choice for some of us and one we use both to nurture ourselves and make an inner relationship and so its a different kind of alone time to that which may be imposed on us if we are exiled or find ourself isolated emotionally or physically in some relationships, families or groups, which can happen we are not like the other’s temperamentally or have suffered abandonment or abuse.  Then being alone can be deeply painful but also set us on a quest to know and love ourselves more and to understand the forces that shaped us.  We can get all kinds of messages about how there is something wrong with us for being alone or liking solitude, and those messages are bound to make us feel worse about ourselves if we swallow them wholesale.

In my last major relationship, my partner accused me of being agoraphobic simply because at that stage I was choosing solitude, that said there may have been a degree of social anxiety in my unsociability.  I had been abandoned and hurt and misunderstood very much in the years leading up to that introversion.   Yet still as a person I know I do gain benefits from alone time.  I am highly empathic and I find when I am around certain people I do absorb and tend to gravitate toward them at a feeling level.

I had this experience yesterday when I was driving to my first therapy appointment of 2018 of being reduced to tears at the intersection where a homeless man was offering windscreen cleaning and being refused by nearly every driver.  He said the ‘F’ word sotto of voice without a hint of outer aggression, and as he did I felt his exhaustion and pain and something about him being rejected really triggered me.   I just found myself sobbing.  I am aware that a lot of what I was feeling may have been banked up grief as I had seen my therapist only once since my mother’s death on 12 December and holding in the feelings I noticed they were bubbling up as I drove toward the appointment.  I thought of how hard Mum tried to give or do things for us and of how much she needed emotionally and was refused by certain family members, yet introversion and solitude helped me to process all of this and become more aware.

I noticed too that on the last two days I took myself out for a morning coffee when I ran into friends part of me was pleased to see them, but part of me wanted just to have a solitary moment enjoying my cuppa.  I find I am less conscious of the taste and mindfully experiencing it, drinking my coffee while distracted in conversation.  Conversation can be either interesting and engaging or a bit detached and that all depends on what is being shared.  Being pulled out of ourselves when we need that alone time to recharge can be a bit disturbing to our energy and I don’t always find it easy in that situation to say ‘listen I would just like to sit quietly on my own for a while.’

The danger I think in all of this, though, is pertinently pointed out by Sara in her book.  It’s not just pathology to want to be alone.  In one chapter she reminds us that it’s when we are alone in nature that so many of us have peak experiences of connection : physical, emotional, spiritual and transcendent.   It is in silence we can hear the still small voice of creativity that is often drowned out by too much excessive stimulation or ‘noise’, its in solitude that we can touch with the base of our soul through the use of imagination or reverie.   However, it is also lovely to have those moments when we touch or are touched by other humans, times of connection that fill us up and add to us, rather than drain our life energy away.  Sorting out what we need in terms of connection or solitude and alone time or in relationship is an ongoing balance of polarities.  What is right for one person may not serve someone else and what we need on one day may change on another.

Despite all this I know my own soul would be far poorer were it not for the creative alone time I have experienced in my own life.   So I will not be ever demonising anyone for loving their solitude.

There is no evidence whatsoever that even prolonged periods of being alone are detrimental to physical or mental health, so long as that solitude is freely chosen…. (according to Anthony Storr – author of the book Solitude) “the fact that isolation can be therapeutic is seldom mentioned in textbooks of psychiatry.  The emphasis is on group participation….(I) regret that the average mental hospital can make little provision for those patients who want to be alone and would benefit from being so.”

Maitland makes the point consistently throughout her book that often people who chose alone time or solitude can be demonised as sad, mad or bad.   But not all evidence supports this, for those who are able to endure and navigate the alone space can bring back treasures both for the self and for others which just would never have been discovered or birthed in the absence of solitude.

 

 

 

Disconnection and connection : some thoughts

Jung

From quite a young age I had a sense of being on the outside of the life around me.  I was the youngest in family caught up in other worlds, only lately am I realising the depth of aloneness I felt and how the attention was focused somewhere away from my inner self.  And so I believe I did grow into a loner, but one who craved connection of any kind, no matter what the cost.  I didn’t have wise protective radar for who was really connected to me though as I don’t think I was connected to a lot and so it felt unfamiliar, emotional abandonment or disconnect I knew (unconsciously at that point) so I attracted more of that in the years that followed.

I have been thinking about it a lot today and seeing what a hunger to connect outside of myself did to me before I was connected to my deeper self.  Put simply those connections just did not work and I always ended up sorrowing and empty.  In later years with all the trauma and insecurity I carried maybe I didn’t find it easy to connect to others as I had begun to turn to substances.  I also had an implicit feeling that I was a failure for not ‘fitting in’ and so I needed to change, but lately I am realising I didn’t need to change at all, my task lay in coming to know myself, so I had something real to offer relationship.

The Buddhist’s say the ‘self’ is just a construction and I do believe we can construct a false self of representations, but I am a firm believer that there lies inside an essential core of us we can know.  For me, as a sensitive, soul attuned person I find this feeling comes when I am connected to nature and my inner world.  I never feel more at home as on moments where I sit being comforted by the breeze flowing on my face, listening to the song of a local magpie who comes to visit around lunchtime and while writing or reflecting I touch base with something essential and lovely so deep inside.  At moments like this I realise that my hunger for connection outside of myself often led me astray.  My need to be liked or understood by those who could not hurt me and I also made demands at times out of a needy self that did not know how to hold her own hand.

I am so happy to say that lately these feelings of ‘need’ are dropping away.  I was thinking today of the young child or baby who cries out and when not heard collapses into depression or resignation.  In my own case I am learning to give up and surrender longings I direct toward unavailable sources.  And I have discovered a fundamental truth, that I connect best to those who connect with their inward worlds, something I touched on in a previous post about being an orphan.

Lately, I don’t feel that totally empty, bereft feeling of orphanhood that I did before, I am not making demands to have a different journey or fate than I have.  I will always probably be a loner but the paradox is that in society I connect with others when I see deeper in a way those who are on another plane don’t.  It’s not something that is easy to express and I know there are others out there a lot like me.  I don’t feel as alone in the crowd as I used to because lately I see more of our common humanity.

A fellow blogger helped me a lot a few months ago when I was sharing how I had met with a friend and we hadn’t connected by saying that connections cannot be forced and we cannot will them into being.  Knowing when we are connected and disconnected is important.  For me if I feel disconnected in a certain situation its a sign to retreat and listen to my soul.   I find so much loving connection, too from my blog and through reading the writing and blogs of others,   It’s that joyous moment of pleasure and uplift that comes from being received and ‘got’ and I am so grateful for it.  I am also coming to be more and more grateful for my times of deep solitude which are like a balm to me.  I am beginning to realise all the gifts I have and its okay to be alone, not necessarily a sign of something wrong with us.

I also feel myself separating more and more from my family on the earthly plane.  Deep at a soul level I know we are connected and always will be, but it seems to me I am beginning to be aware of playing a ‘role’ in that family can limit my soul which wants to be freer to breath new life into old past grief filled places.  Its beginning to be a real possibility that I can find a way to live outside of the pain of a past that nearly crushed me and for that I am grateful beyond words.

Not alone : solitude and inner presence

Dreamer

When we are not alone,

when we are on our own,

then we have achieved solitude.

 

The person who achieves solitude

is alone

in his or her unique experience of the journey,

yet such a person

is conscious of an inner presence

with which to dialogue.

 

One may only become an individual

by ascent to this dialogue,

by conscious and constant valuing

of the autonomy and teleology

of one’s soul.

James Hollis