In Praise of Solitude
As very much a people person, I get a bit sad if I go a few days without really talking to anyone. I mean, I live with the man that I'm married to, so I do talk to him of course. But there are some weeks the two of us are like ships passing in the night, and it's easy to start feeling isolated if there's no one else around. My first instinct when I have 'spare time' (a concept that's always amused me!) is to arrange some kind of social gathering, even if it's just a handful of us.
I'm also very prone to saying 'yes' to lots of commitments, which means I'm likely to be getting home from work and dashing out again almost immediately probably a couple of times a week, if not more. Again I find this energising and fulfilling, except when it completely exhausts me!
But I do notice that actually, I need time alone. I think we all do. And it's difficult to get.
In a world where technology has revolutionised travel, cooking, and housework, we should have more 'spare time' than ever before. We are not bound to the traditional gender roles of yesteryear. Families are often smaller. All of this should theoretically make it easier to make time to be by ourselves, but it seems to me that we've largely forgotten how to be alone. What might the impact of this be on our mental and physical wellbeing?
Personally I've noticed that in the gaps I get between commitments, my instinct is to pick up my smartphone. One of the most amazing things about the internet is the access it gives us to people and information at any time of the day or night. If I have wifi, I need never be bored. I never have to interact when I don't want to; my phone operates as a shield from unwanted human contact - that could be a whole other blog post, to be honest! But this connection to my phone also prevents me from actually being separated from the world for any decent period of time.
When I actually achieve it though, so much changes. Slowly I can unwind the tightly-wound tendrils of my mind and drop some of the baggage I've been carrying. I have the space and time to mull over things I've been ignoring. I have the freedom to process difficult thoughts without interruption or compulsion. And even if there's none of that to be done, I can breathe easier, comfortable in my own company with no need to adjust to the presence of others.
I believe it's really important to be okay with our own company. It's easy to fill our days with busyness and a lot of that is necessary, but at some point it stops being necessary and becomes a distraction. Lack of mental and physical space is harmful on a number of levels, and without making that space we may well find we are not coping with life as well. After taking a break from interacting with the world, I am refreshed, reinvigorated, and better able to handle difficulty. It often also helps me to remember to invest in the relationships that are important to me.
One of my favourite ways to enjoy solitude is to walk in the woods near my house. I may run into the odd dogwalker, but for the most part I'm left to my own devices. I can enjoy the birdsong, the wind, the beautiful trees. I like to climb to the top of the hilliest part and look out over the rest of the woodland; it might sound strange but the physical sense of enhanced perspective helps me to think more clearly.
Quite apart from the physical benefits, I also like running for the same reason. I always go by myself - I'll probably never be a social runner - and if I'm stressed or anxious it's like I'm taking it out on the pavement. The post-run endorphins don't do any harm either!
Then of course there's the reading corner. On weekend afternoons, with a mild sun pouring through the front window and heating my cosy leather chair, there's not a single place I'd rather be than curled up by my bookcase. In the winter when it's not so warm I'll huddle under a blanket, but the important thing is that it's my space for relaxing and diving into whatever literary world I'm exploring at the time. Reading takes my mind off my own life, and just like the hill in the woods gives me a better sense of perspective.
What ways do you use to make time alone?