Learning How to be Alone

8 Jul

So much of social media “is a mindless attempt ‘to fill this moment: I’m so anxious, I need to feel plugged in. If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they’ll only know how to be lonely.” (from an article on Kids & Social Media in Boston Magazine, June 2012).

I had this discussion with a friend recently – the difference between alone and lonely. To me, being lonely is very much inward, feeling sorry for yourself, usually involves trying to fill the void in some way.  It is quite possible to be lonely in a large group of people, in fact, that is often when people are loneliest. Although you could be lonely while alone, it isn’t always the case.

But being alone is a useful skill. Being okay being alone is even more important. Sticking a toddler in a playpen for a half hour and expecting them to entertain themselves = being alone. Sending a child to their room to play quietly and entertain themselves while you attend to other things = being alone.

Yesterday, I decided to bike the very flat, very gorgeous Minuteman trail near my house. Some days, I crave a biking adventure. Some days, I crave something familiar – a well-worn route, one where I don’t have to check maps or even think. I just go. I knew I had a short window of time so biking the trail and the 32 miles involved from start to finish was perfect.

And for two hours, I was happily alone. I was not lonely – there were lots of other people walking/biking/jogging/rollerblading and every other biker would nod as they passed – an acknowledgement of what a gorgeous day and a fun activity we were both partaking in.  A silent club. And it was silent – I didn’t speak for two hours, didn’t come outside of my mind which was marveling at the lush green forest and the power in my legs and how whatever I think about dictates if I speed up or slow down. I worked on getting comfortable in the drop position and sustaining a faster speed over longer distances.

And after a few hours of being alone, of having worked on some skills, of having escaped the city, I felt ready to re-enter it all.

“I couldn’t do that” my friend said.  “Do what – bike?” I asked.  “Be alone” she said. If my husband and friends are busy, I either put the TV on or check Facebook or call someone. I can’t be left alone with my thoughts. Or left alone at all. I get bored.”

Being alone is apparently no longer a given, but a skill that has to be passed down.  There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to go to a restaurant by yourself or watch a movie in the cinema alone. Different people are okay with different levels of aloneness. But the need for constant entertainment and constant reassurance that someone, somewhere, right now, is either speaking with or thinking about me, is too much.

Being alone is not being forgotten.



One Response to “Learning How to be Alone”

  1. Susanna July 8, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    I totally agree. I think the inability to be alone, to be still, to be doing nothing, to be alone with one’s thoughts, requires a peace of mind and a stability that most of us don’t have. We keep busy and we are with people to keep from being alone with ourselves, because it’s when we’re alone that our darkest thoughts, our insecurities, our fears, our regrets from the past, our hurts, crop up again, and we can’t ignore them. So much activity and socialisation is about running from ourselves and from the darkness and emptiness inside us.

    I’ve found healing/filling with God’s love immensely valuable in enabling me to be still, to be alone, and not need to be “doing” or with someone every moment of the day. Doesn’t keep me from falling back into it sometimes, but I have less of a need for it and I know how to deal with the underlying stuff instead of running to busyness to distract me.

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