When was the last time you were alone? As in really alone? With no boyfriend, no cell phone, and no social media? Just alone in your room with nothing but silence as your companion?
In an article titled “The Virtues of Isolation,” which was published in The Atlantic, Brent Crane writes about the benefits of solitude. In his introduction, he tells us about Italian journalist and author Tiziano Terzani, who spent a whole month alone in his cabin in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan with no one to talk to but his dog.
It was a badly needed break. For many years, Terzani had spent reporting across Asia. He writes in his book A Fortune Teller Told Me how he would pass the time “listening to the winds in the trees, watching butterflies, enjoying silence.” For the first time in a long time, he was free from the hustle and bustle of daily life. He continues, “At last I had time to have time.”
Even with technological advancements that have made our lives easier, we are still finding it harder and harder to have time for ourselves. Perhaps it is the same technological advancements that are keeping us from pausing and taking some time to be alone with our thoughts.
“Solitude can be restorative,” Brent Crane writes. “Yet, because the study of solitude as a positive force is new, it’s hard to speak in precise scientific terms about it: We don’t know what the ideal amount is, for instance, or even if there is one. Most likely, such measures are different for everybody.”
There are many benefits of being alone. When we are alone, we tend to get things done. There’s nothing keeping us from completing the task at hand. I can attest to this. When I write, I need to be alone. I also need peace and quiet, for I find it hard to hear my thoughts with music or the TV on. The only sound I can tolerate is the squawking of Leonard, our black-headed caique.
Why do people go on retreats for a few days to even a couple of weeks, disconnected from the rest of the world? Because the human mind needs to rest and recuperate. Sometimes there’s just too much on our plate that it would benefit us greatly to step back and keep a safe distance from the world even for just a short while.
According to Sarah Pedersen, a student of mindfulness and meditation, two things that require being alone, “Mindfulness has been shown to predict decreases in anxiety, depression and stress.”
Mindfulness “means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” according to greatergood.berkeley.edu. One needs to free one’s mind of useless thoughts to be able to practice this.
Research shows that mindfulness and meditation help people cope with chemotherapy and pain. They also help improve their mental health.
The Desert Fathers led ascetic lives in the desert, away from their loved ones. According to an article titled “Antony and the Desert Fathers: Christian History Interview – Discovering the Desert Paradox” by Belden Lane, the desert fathers “sought God, first of all, and they knew that God was most easily found in a place without distractions.”
We have to keep in mind that solitude is not the same as loneliness. According to Dr. Christine Whelan, clinical professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, “Solitude is being alone by choice for introspection whereas loneliness is feeling socially isolated and alone when you don’t want to be.”
Kenneth Rubin, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland, says there are factors that need to be present for solitude to be viewed as something positive. “Solitude can be productive only: if it is voluntary, if one can regulate one’s emotions ‘effectively,’ if one can join a social group when desired, and if one can maintain positive relationships outside of it.” As long as these conditions are present, then it is beneficial for the person to be alone.
By: Cynthia Yushida