The useful art of being alone

30 Aug 2016

The useful art of being alone

In our culture, being ‘lonely’ is frowned upon. Loneliness is not associated with happiness; on the contrary it is associated with illness or social ineptitude or both. The only people who seem to enjoy loneliness are poets, drunks and philosophers. For everyone else, loneliness is a state to be avoided, a diseased condition from which nothing good can arise. But is loneliness really such a bad thing? Do we not enter and leave the world alone? Do we not do our best work alone? Do we not think, dream, feel happy and grieve alone? Is constant socialization overrated and keeping us from our deepest selves? In her book The Lonely City, Olivia Laing writes about loneliness as a kind of exalted mental state, one that gives us access to our deepest, most authentic thoughts and feelings, a place from where our best work may emerge. The singer Dennis Wilson in his album Pacific Blue refers to loneliness as “a very special place”, a place that seems to be as fertile as it is frightening.

Loneliness, then, may not be such an undesirable thing after all. Loneliness, if conscious and studied, may be a kind of prayer or meditation, giving us answers to old questions. What are the benefits of conscious loneliness? Is there merit in taking time off from the human drama and going off into the woods or the library? Apparently, there are! Here are some:

Loneliness can reveal our finest thoughts to us: Being in the company of others gives us fresh perspectives on our issues. However, constantly being surrounded by the chatter of people can make us deaf to the stream of our inner consciousness. This stream records and processes everything that happens to us and it is from here that our most beneficial and unique patterns of thought emerge. But we cannot access it in loud environs and among many people. We need silence and solitude for these thoughts to rise up from the floor of our consciousness and reveal themselves to us. Many writers and inventors get their best ideas alone, after these ideas have incubated in their minds for days or weeks.

Loneliness can give us perspective: Spending time with oneself and one’s thoughts gives us the requisite emotional and psychological ‘distance’ from the world. Too often, we have our ear very close to the ground and so, as a result, we fail to see what is obvious. The obvious failings of our lives have turned into tough blind spots. Loneliness, a voluntary turning away from the drama of the world to listen to what emerges from within, can bring into relief several relevant aspects of an issue. In this way, it can make us see and understand that which was previously hidden from our perception owing to over familiarity or a cognitive bias.

Loneliness can open us to the rhythms of nature: Too often, people who live in cities find themselves increasingly cut off from the natural charms and benefits of nature. Taking a long walk alone in a park full of trees or sitting alone under a canopy of leaves and listening to birds – these are activities that bring us closer to the natural, life-giving rhythms of nature, and they invigorate and clarify our minds. Researchers say a daily, solitary thirty-minute walk through a park or the woods can do wonders for our mindfulness and sense of wellness.

Loneliness gets work done: It might seem antithetical to society but spending long periods of time alone can bring about a great sense of focus and creativity that might otherwise not be possible. Working in communities and offices can be fun but if not managed right can also lend itself easily to a sea of distractions: phone calls, gossip, unwanted meetings, and so on. It is said that spending the first three hours of the workday entirely alone and with diligent adherence to a planned to-do list can significantly increase productivity and well-being.

Loneliness, if understood and properly harnessed, can be a positive, sacred space where our finest thoughts unfold and our best work happens. Take time to be ‘lonely’ every day so you can connect with the deepest part of you, do your best work, and feel more connected with the world. Yes, it seems ironic doesn’t it? Cultivating loneliness to connect better with the world! But only when know who we are and have accepted our psychic and emotional worlds, can we truly connect with others from the best parts of us. And cultivated loneliness seems to be the best route to making that happen!

About the Author:

Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.

Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.


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