“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.”
– Albert Einstein
Humans are social beings.
Lieberman in his book, ‘Social,’ says, “Food, water, and shelter are not the most basic needs for an infant. Instead, being socially connected and cared for is paramount. Without social support, infants will never survive to become adults who can provide for themselves. Being socially connected is a need with a capital N.” *
Without the social connection to caretakers, infants would be helpless and they’d die. In the past, an adult thrown out of their tribe wouldn’t have access to the food, shelter, and protection of the group. This was a death sentence.
It explains why people who are loners or spend lots of time on their own, are often seen as strange or anti-social. Yet, solitude provides many benefits that are hard to come by when we are constantly distracted, by the company of others.
Sara Maitland in, How to be alone,* discusses how different groups of people encourage spending time alone. The Aborigines, for example, sent their kids on a six month “walkabout,” in order to prepare them for adulthood. Monks and knights spent time alone prior to their initiation and called it a “vigil.”
Today, some Ivy League universities encourage gap years. A year after high school and before university where students do volunteer work, travel, try different jobs, and experience the world on their own. This helps them gain independence, get to know themselves, and experience life in different ways. It also helps them determine what they want to do with their life. That way, they’ll be more certain of what they choose to study in university and increase the probability of it being fulfilling and rewarding.
Many artists and creative people seek spaces where they can work without distractions. This leads them to long periods of time in solitude. But this solitude also allows them to fully focus and develop their creativity. Henry David Thoreau wrote his famous book, Walden, while spending two years alone at Walden Pond. Spending time on your own is a way to bring out your creativity and produce great work.
Solitude forces you to spend time with yourself; getting to know who you are, what you think, why you think that way, your dreams and fears, what you’re good at, what you’re not. It helps you understand what you want out of life and where you’re at, this very moment. It allows you to reflect and get a clear picture.
Getting to know yourself is not a destination. You’re a living, breathing thing, and you’re constantly changing. What you once considered important and what you wanted when you were young, is likely to change. Continue getting to know yourself by experimenting and reflecting. You may never know everything about yourself. The more layers you peel back, the more interesting your path to discovery.
Some ideas to embrace solitude:
- Go into nature. Go for walks, ride a bike, paddle a boat, ride a hot air balloon.
- Be fully present. Be mindful.
- Plan out alone time. Go on your own adventures to new places.
- Travel alone.
- Do activities on your own. Go to the movies, a cafe, a museum.
- Reflect daily on your life.
- Ask yourself questions.
- Get to know yourself by experimenting.
- Create something on your own.