#83: Solitude / Loneliness (from Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness)

Taken from Personal Revolutions:  A Short Course in Realness by Oli Anderson


Solitude is a gift that allow us to peek behind our own mask, an opportunity that few are brave enough to accept, usually because they have forgotten that they are even wearing a mask in the first place. Perhaps because we live in a culture that values self-esteem over self-acceptance, many of us have a tendency to think that if we find ourselves alone then there must be something wrong with us. A man is measured by his friends, or so they say, and so to be alone is to be a nobody; we rely on others to define us and to uphold the scaffolding of the self-image that we like to display in public; we need other people to hold the mask in place for us; we fear the sensation of having it slip in those moments when everybody else has melted away into the mist (see #54: Self-Acceptance / Self-Esteem).

Solitude is a state that we choose to be in; loneliness is a state we find ourselves in when we can’t find anybody to fill the hole inside ourselves. Solitude is being alone with yourself; loneliness is being alone with everybody else, regardless of whether or not they are present. What does this last cryptic sentence mean? It means that solitude allows you to find peace with yourself by spending time with yourself, reflecting on your connection to reality, and giving yourself space. Loneliness, in comparison, is being by yourself, for whatever reason, but not allowing yourself to spend time with yourself because you’re too busy fretting over what everybody else is doing, what you’re missing out on, or what people might be thinking about you for being alone, instead of out singing and dancing with the rest of them. Solitude is about being alone with who you are; loneliness is about being alone with who you think you should be. Solitude is about being real in your own presence alone; loneliness is about trying to live out your ego when nobody else is around (see #65: Your Decisions / Cultural Decisions).

Learn to embrace solitude when you find it and to make time for it if you don’t: turn of the phones, abandon the Internet; make a hot drink and sit and think; look out the window, go for a walk. Take advantage of the chance to get to know yourself as yourself, away from the crowd. Get away from the distractions and the gabble of the masses. Reflect on where you are, where you’re going, and where you’ve been. Failing that, take the time to read some of those books you’ve been meaning to plough through, play an instrument so hard you start sweating, paint a picture, express yourself to yourself, and then share your creations with others if you think they will find them valuable (see #30: Significance / Success).

Personal Revolutions is a book about guiding yourself out of your ego and into yourself so that you can better reach out to others. In order to be able to do this, you first have to be comfortable with yourself, and the key to reaching this state is to spend time with yourself in solitude, so that you can face the reality of yourself as you currently stand. You don’t have to be a hermit or to be antisocial, but you do need to take time away from the buzz of the world’s activity every once in a while, in order to reflect on how things are going so that you can recharge your batteries for more activity, whilst assessing and making necessary changes to the game plan for when you’re back on the field.

Another tenet of this book is the idea that by cultivating the attitude to be a resilient individual with the character required to create a desirable life in an ever-changing world, we will be able to use that character to have improved interactions with other individuals, teams members, and others in our society. To be stable and comfortable with others, you first have to be stable and comfortable with yourself. Solitude helps you to cultivate this attitude by giving you a direct link to the reality of yourself, allowing you to work through and integrate whatever you find so that you can build upon it, and, as we have said many times in this book, it is only when you are able to see something that you are able to work with it or start to make changes. Solitude allows you to increase awareness of yourself so that you can take better action with yourself.

There are so many distractions in the modern world that it can be difficult to find time to be alone. If we’re not at work, or with our families, then we’re on the phone or staring at a screen, texting and emailing our way through the day, sharing our actions with others to perhaps give our lives a sense of significance and ourselves a sense of durability. We’re so used to having superficial connections with others that when we suddenly find ourselves on the brink of a deep connection with ourselves we panic and run away to seek more distraction rather than leave our comfort zones (see #117: Presence / Distraction).

So alien for some of us is the real self to the eyes of the ego that, when we’re initially confronted with it, the experience can be relatively painful. Maybe we don’t like what we find or we find something out-of-sync with the social mask that we wear around others and have confused for who we really are. Maybe we feel a sense of smallness or that our lives are meaningless. If so, this is why you need solitude, so that you can work with these feelings and replace them with positive or neutral feelings that can permeate throughout the rest of your life.

The less comfortable we are in ourselves, the needier we tend to become in the world outside of ourselves. Solitude is a tool for sharpening the quality of your interactions with other people when out and about in the world by sharpening the relationship you have with yourself. By finding and cultivating a sense of peace with who you are, you will be more confident around others in that you are less reliant on them for definition and verification. Essentially, making regular time for solitude is a way to grow in realness by giving you space to familiarise yourself with your true thoughts and feelings and realigning you with your purpose. Clear away the cloud of distractions once in a while and spend a little time in the blue sky. If you can’t handle solitude, you can’t handle yourself (see #55: Realness / Neediness).

Learn to transmute loneliness in to solitude: If you find yourself living through a period where you’re alone, do the things that you won’t be able to do when life picks up again. Read that book. Write that novel. Learn guitar. No state will last forever, if you are actively designing and contributing towards a process that will change your life. Use solitude to grow into yourself, don’t wallow in loneliness, heavy beneath the weight of the ego; spend the time that you have to spend alone improving yourself so that when you’re ready to return to the world you’re actually ready for it. Solitude is motivated by strength; loneliness is motivated by fear. This isn’t judgmental, but one is chosen and one isn’t. Ask yourself if you’re ‘lonely’: what am I really scared of and what can I do about it?

Self-Guidance Questions

  1. How do you feel about solitude? What do you need to do to become more comfortable with it if need be? Where can you go to be by yourself and reflect on who you are and who you will become within the world?
  1. How often do you find yourself craving the attention or company of other people? How often are these cravings ‘healthy’ and how often might you be looking for an excuse to distract yourself from reality? How often do you escape in other people and how often do you actually spend time with them?
  1. As an experiment: Look at the relationships in your life. Which, if any, only serve to help you uphold a certain image of yourself? Who do you spend time with because they suck up to you, for example? What situations do you put yourself in because it gives you an opportunity to wear a certain mask (for example, do you socialise with subordinates from work because they treat you in a certain way…)? Where might you benefit from solitude as a tool to look behind your own mask? Where are your relationships built on the ego alone?
  1. How often do your find yourself feeling lonely? How might you be isolating yourself? What actions can you take to link your loneliness to your purpose by utilising your time differently? How can you transmute loneliness to solitude? What steps can you do to widen your social circle? How can you build upon your process in the moments that you choose to spend by yourself?
  1. Think about your experiences of being ‘lonely’: What else is going on? Are you bored? Are you seeking an outlet for certain emotions? How can you use this awareness to start building the process of either ridding your life of loneliness or to transmute it into solitude?
  1. What would you do if you had more time to yourself? How can you find it and allow yourself to maximise its benefit? Where can you go by yourself? What places or environments will reconnect you to yourself? Do you need the beach, for example? Do you belong up on the hills? Who are you in the face of yourself on the face of the earth?
  1. Prepare yourself: Next time you find yourself alone with yourself what will you do with your time? Remember: time is the ultimate resource – How will you invest it next time you have nothing but time on your hands?
  1. What kinds of devices or electronics distract you from your solitude? What steps can you take to minimise distractions throughout the day? How can you keep yourself accountable?
  1. How often do you take time to sit and think? What problems could you solve if you dedicated some time to ruminating on whatever is facing you? What questions can you occupy yourself with to improve the quality of your life overall? Give yourself five minutes a day and find out.
  1. What activities can you undertake or add to your routine that will allow you to put your thoughts in order? Can you take a daily walk? Can you take up meditation? How can you ritualise solitude to connect yourself to yourself and your world?

Taken from Personal Revolutions:  A Short Course in Realness by Oli Anderson

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