We are a people on the run. In our ever-growing culture of busy, busy, busy, we feel under constant pressure to complete tasks quickly, multi-task, and make each moment of our waking days productive. But what impact is this go-go-go culture having on us, and how may we be squandering opportunities for solitude?
Think about how you spend your time alone. We all have moments over the course of our waking hours when we are by ourselves, but being alone isn’t the same as experiencing solitude. Especially in our digital culture, our solitary time is not often actually spent by ourselves—we have social media or other forms of distractions at our fingertips so that even alone time isn’t entirely by ourselves anymore.
Social scientists who have been studying the impact of social media on our psychology have been reflecting on its impediment to solitude for some time now. For instance, prominent MIT scholar Sherry Turkle published Reclaiming Conversation (2015), which identifies the undermining of solitude as one of the many unintended pitfalls of our increasingly technology-reliant culture. She identifies solitude as an essential feature of personality development, for it enables an individual to be comfortable in his or her own skin, cultivate creativity, reflection, and better prepare themselves for when they do have opportunities to connect with others.
Essentially, we need to better connect with ourselves to then enable us to extend such a connection to the people and world around us. These processes, essential to basic human development, are oftentimes undermined when the time that we used to spend by ourselves in solitude are usurped by the seductive pull of our digital devices. Indeed, as identified in an article from Mindful, “when we lose the ability to be alone with ourselves, our overstimulated nervous systems suffer from no place to rest and recharge” (Sevilla, 2017, para 3).
One of the greatest pathways to beneficial solitude is through mindfulness practices, such as meditation. Through cultivating a practice where we focus on the present moment, in addition to becoming more in tune with our mind-body connection, we also become more aware of our surroundings. Under such conditions, being alone becomes less daunting and more fulfilling, as solitude becomes a gateway for reflection and refuge.
Though many of us may spend time by ourselves, we may also develop a soundtrack to that time—the blaring of the television, the beeping of our phones, new alerts or text messages that we attend to. In fact, for many people unaccustomed to solitude, being alone and still in a quiet environment can induce anxiety or dread. But alas, it is through that stillness and quiet that we can tap into a deeper part of our own sense of self and explore our inner lives. Indeed, “as you learn to be alone you can learn how to be brave and honest with how things are right now. If you can cultivate your ability to be OK with being alone, you may come to appreciate that you can create all the conditions you need to be content with yourself and in life” (Sevilla, 2017, para 4).
So perhaps we can all benefit from a digital unplug the next time we find ourselves in an elevator by ourselves, or walking on the street, waiting in traffic, or home alone. How would you get to know yourself if you gave your own consciousness the time and attention you give to other people when you socialize? Sometimes the simplest practices can be the most transformative in enhancing our sense of self. Introduce yourself to you next time you have an opportunity for solitude, and see what comes from it.
Copyright 2017 Azadeh Aalai
Smookler, E. (2017, July 26). The Power of Solitude. Mundful. Retrieved on October 31, 2017 from: https://www.mindful.org/the-power-of-solitude/