Each time a person has to spend time alone, they’re overcome by overwhelming feelings of anxiety, emptiness, and fear. For some reason, most people in the world are terrified of solitude. The prison systems of many countries are aware of this and exploit it to the fullest. When a prison inmate is caught breaking a prison rule or causing a ruckus, he is put in solitary confinement. When potential threats to national security are interrogated with advanced techniques in places like Guantanamo Bay, they’re kept in solitary confinement as well. The use of solitary confinement is not new though. It has been used since ancient times when men were often exiled for wrongdoings. This is a clear indication that for eons people have understood the impact that social isolation can have on our psyche. So, what is it about being alone that scares most people so much? Why is it that an experience that should otherwise be beautiful, often turns into a nightmare?
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Human beings are social animals and it is considered that we are not fit to spend time in quiet solitude. Being alone for too long can sometimes lead to a state of insanity that is difficult to recover from. You do not have to go back too far in history to understand this. The recent COVID-19 pandemic which caused everyone to isolate from each other gave you a glimpse of how fragile the human mind is.
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Many spiritual gurus and philosophers have suggested that the fear of solitude is nothing but just the fear of oneself. Most people just cannot bear to face themselves and the silence within their souls, and they’d do anything to escape it. During your daily routine when you’re busy with your work, you are most often in the presence of other people. This causes your mind to push your darkness and emotions away from your conscious awareness and instead put up a social mask. This persona that you carry with you keeps you away from experiencing the emptiness of quiet solitude. But as soon as you’re away from the restricting nature of social obligations, these thoughts and emotions that were bubbling beneath the surface come to the fore. This is why most people are unable to cope with alone time because the silence of solitude weighs them down.
People cling on to others in a valiant attempt to dispel the silence within themselves. In this attempt, they become friends with people they don’t even like, get into relationships they don’t need, form organizations, hobbies, clubs, political parties and latch on to anyone they can find as long as it helps them escape the few moments they have to spend with themselves. This becomes their default setting. It’s a form of unhealthy coping mechanism. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, “One man runs to his neighbour because he is looking for himself, and another because he wants to lose himself. Your bad love of yourselves makes solitude a prison to you.”
Solitude is like a black hole; a frightening dark negative state that almost feels like death. It is as if you’re being swallowed by nothingness. Some people put on music or even start singing when they have to spend time alone in their house. They would try to drown their solitude with their voice if needed.
But you have to learn to become comfortable with the silence within. This is because exceptional people are built in solitude. You won’t see a spiritual guru lose his sanity after being confined to solitary confinement. You won’t see a monk displaying a desperate need to be with other people. Lock them up in a cell and they’ll be doing just fine. Isolation does not affect a mind that has spiritually awakened. This is because people who have awakened to their inner calling would rarely be interested in others. They’re lost in the silence within because they’ve realized that within that silence lie the secrets of the truth they’ve been seeking. In fact, not only are they comfortable with quiet solitude, they revel in it.
Solitude can become addictive. Once you have understood it and realized the effect that silence has on you, being around others for the sake of meaningless conversations becomes difficult. It may sound counter-intuitive, but solitude gives us freedom. If you cannot learn to enjoy being alone, you will never know what freedom is. In ‘Essays and Aphorisms’, Arthur Schopenhauer said, “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
Those who have not learnt to understand the beauty of their inner stillness will always try to lose themselves in others as Nietzsche said, and those who lose themselves in others may be saved from their solitude, but they remain a shadow of their real selves. They could have lived up to their spiritual potential had they only recognized that their soul begins to whisper the truth from within that silence. All they had to do is listen. Instead, they choose to live their lives as a spiritual cripple who wears a mask and uses people as crutch.
To reach your full potential, you have to cater to your highest needs. That is the quest for the truth and the connection with your inner self. These needs cannot be completely met by other people. This is what Ernest Becker wrote in his book ‘Denial of Death’. He said, “It is impossible to get blood from a stone, to get spirituality from a physical being.”
Most people are so oblivious to solitude being an important factor in their spiritual growth that they confuse it with loneliness. Loneliness is not the same as solitude. Loneliness is the overwhelming negative feeling you experience when you are not amidst other people. But solitude is the state of being alone. You will always see a monk in a state of quiet solitude, but you will never see a monk lonely even when he is alone. Those who try to escape their inner silence will always feel lonely no matter what they do.
While you are conditioned by a culture that hands down thoughts and belief systems as tradition, a spiritual person is free of this. They tune into higher dimensions to channel infinite potential and that’s how they awaken. A spiritual person is thus like a shaman who has understood the potential of solitude. They dive down into the deep silence to find out who they are because it is very difficult to find that out when you are with other people. While the world is busy listening to other people who tell them who they are all the time, the mind that is awakened is disinterested in external labels and chooses to find the truth alone. Only by putting an end to the ceaseless chatter that diminishes your ability to find the truth can you find yourself. That is the real you before you were conceived in this world.
Turn off your phone, get off social media for a few weeks, get rid of all the cheap dopamine-producing sources from your life and go off to a retreat or a place where you can reflect on yourself. Be alone. Be still. Let the silence engulf you. After the initial discomfort has passed, you’ll find that what scared you was nothing more than the death of an illusion. You will then attain a state of peace and bliss. You will find that who you were doesn’t have to survive because it was a social persona. The real you deep down is all there is and it is your true essence.
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There is greater wisdom that you tune into when you are not clouded by thoughts or surrounded by people. The cost of tuning into this cosmic knowledge is solitude. But as soon as you begin to get comfortable with your solitude you realise that you were never alone. You are everything and every one and you have been a part of the source for eternity. As you take this journey, you arrive from aloneness to oneness.