Embracing Solitude

paul-solitude-imageDespite what movies like Into the Wild (2007) might like us to believe at times, our Western culture is certainly not a friendly place for lone wolves. Most of us would, for example, feel uncomfortable when sitting by ourselves in a bar or restaurant – and I certainly recall myself wondering at times, when I see someone sitting by themselves. “Don’t you have any friends or loved ones you could be spending time with right now?” And I think everyone can relate to that awkward silence that can – and will – sometimes happen in conversation. “Wait, why is there silence? Am I showing my social incompetence now? What will they think of me?!” Cue social anxiety.

Solitude, in fact, is something that we seem to have branded as something wholly negative, especially in a time dominated by social media, where we feel compelled to share just about every breath we take with great aplomb with as many people as possible. Shared experiences have become the norm, even more so than they used to be, while solitude has become not only a rarity, but also something to be avoided rather than sought out.

Just look, for example, on how advertisers are playing into (and enhancing) this negative branding of solitude: they need us to compare ourselves to others. Just to imbue it all with a delicious sense of irony, popular media has been telling us to just “be ourselves” for the longest time – but that’s about as far as possible from what the advertisement giants of the world actually want. If you just “were yourself”, and in doing so became a proper “lone wolf”, how would they ever sell us anything ever again? If we’re no longer busy comparing our lives, our jobs, our furniture, our gadgets and even our experiences to those of others, ask yourself: what would they use to sell their goods to us? If we no longer cared about being as beautiful (and implied: as successful) as Doutzen Kroes and company, why would we ever buy their fancy makeup products? And so they hope to shove the einzelgänger in all of us as far under the rug as they can.

And I, too, am as guilty of such collective trains of thought as the next guy. However, as a result of spending a year traveling, away from my old, familiar friends, family, and places, and moving from place to place nearly continuously, I spent a lot of time alone. Without exaggerating, I walked trails where human contact happened literally for roughly five minutes every day, if that much. And even when exploring a city, it’s remarkable just how utterly alone one can be amidst a droning mass of people, if you’ll excuse the slight cliché.

In doing so, I made an interesting discovery: there is actually plenty of positivity to be gained from that solitude. First and foremost, it essentially forces you into self-reflection. After all, there is simply no one else to talk to other than yourself. Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but in a life filled with constant “stuff to do” I simply find myself only seldom stopping to take a moment of quiet contemplation. And, perhaps more directly, once you get used to the fact that you’re truly alone, there is also a definite sense of serenity to be found in solitude. Whether you’re out in the calm of nature or standing in the middle of a bustling city square, there’s something about solitude that turns it all into a kind of spiritual experience – if you allow the space for it to become one.

And you know what? Sometimes it’s simply nice to have a moment of silence, whether that be a moment of contemplation or just sitting and watching the scene in front of you pass by. And, on a final note, perhaps that is what we yearn for when we simply crawl into bed with as many pillows as we can and put on those series that we love. An escape from everything and everyone, including our very thoughts. Regardless of whether you think of yourself as an einzelgänger or as one of the pack, I recommend you to find a moment of solitude every once in a while. Instead of shying away from solitude, embrace it – and reclaim the positivity that we have, together, forgotten.

paul_wbkaartjes

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