In my mind it’s important to distinguish between solitude which is imperative for good health and the maturation of the human spirit, and isolation which is a toxic disconnection from others. Balancing can be difficult sometimes.
So, I think of it in terms of solitude vs. isolation. Solitude is nurturing…isolation is not…we know the difference if we pay attention.
In mainstream mental health circles we are encouraged to believe that “isolating” or “withdrawing” is always bad, that it is in fact pathological.
This is really too bad, as part of healing from mental distress for most people requires spending some time alone. Unfortunately, we find that in professional mental health circles this very natural inclination is often maligned and people are shamed if they show a propensity toward needing time alone.
I certainly need to be alone sometimes and have found some of my deepest healing and found access to those places in the alone times.
Anyone who has spent time in a psych ward know that people are prodded out of their bedrooms and forced to socialize and be in “group,” regardless of whether it’s actually helpful or not. Then if one shares that they would prefer to be alone it is made out that the very inclination to not want to be in group is SICK. Oh yeah, anyone who has ever been in a psych ward knows what I’m talking about!
It seems to me that a lot of people are just listening to what has been told to them about their inclination to spend time alone, rather than deeply observing and listening to their own needs which may in fact be that alone time is needed!
Part of growing and healing in spiritual circles, on the other hand, is silent retreat…for a reason…it can be good and in fact imperative to go inward from time to time. In spiritual circles such alone time on retreat may involve prayer or meditation. People sometimes do it in relative “isolation” for months and on some occasions years.
People who are not part of such spiritual communities, may simply find themselves inclined to alone time. Time in which they are naturally contemplative. If one’s very being is drawing one to do just that sometimes it pays to listen rather than to critique. I’ve heard so many people who’ve been influenced by mainstream mental health circles be hard on themselves during these times, rather than embrace them as a time to get to know oneself.
I again think to link to Jayme’s piece on embracing ourselves. She calls it “How I deal with mental breakdowns.” How does she do it? By spending time with the mental distress! Alone! It is in embracing the whole human emotional spectrum that we heal and become whole: The foundation of healing mental ills and of becoming a mature human adult.
So “withdrawal” and “isolation” is by no means always bad…and I say that knowing we TOTALLY need one another too, of course!
We might ask why such a primary need as to be alone is called “isolating” or “withdrawing,” terms that judge the behavior and make it pathological, both. I think most people (so-called normal and healthy ones too) are afraid of being alone. Afraid of their own psyche, really. And so this fear is passed on to those they are supposed to be helping.
To be clear, there are times when being isolated is not a pleasant thing at all. Absolutely. There should be no confusion here. I write quite a bit about one kind of negative isolation — how people, both family and friends abandon others when they are gravely ill. But that sort of isolation is imposed, not chosen. That is one example only.
True isolation and alienation both are awful states to be in, but they are not necessitated by desiring or needing alone time. They are two very different things.
Alone time is really imperative but our culture seems to shrink from it. The only way one can truly and deeply come to know oneself is to spend quality time alone. Some people need more of that time than others. Some people may need big, huge, chunks of that time and that is okay too.
Beautiful video: How to be alone — words beneath the video.
I’ve published the below video on this blog before. It’s a celebration of solitude. We might spend alone time in nature or meditating too. Those are my favorite ways of spending alone time. For video:
How to be alone
By Tanya Davis
If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were you were not okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find its fine to be alone once you’re embracing it. We can start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library, where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the box, your not suppose to talk much anyway so its safe there. There is also the gym, if your shy, you can hang out with yourself and mirrors, you can put headphones in. There’s public transportation, we all gotta go places. And there’s prayer and mediation, no one will think less if your hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation. Start simple. Things you may have previously avoided based on avoid being principles. The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by “chow downers”, employees who only have an hour and their spouse work across town, and they, like you, will be alone. Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone. When you are comfortable with “eat lunch and run”, take yourself out to dinner to a restaurant with linen and silver wear. You’re no less an intriguing a person when you are eating solo desert and cleaning the whip cream from the dish with your finger. In fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were. Go to the movies. Where it’s dark and soothing, alone in your seat amidst fleeting community. And then take yourself out dancing, to a club where no one knows you, stand on the outside of the floor until the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no ones watching because they are probably not. And if they are, assume it is with best human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely move to beats, after-all, is gorgeous and affecting. Dance till you’re sweating. And beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things. Down your back, like a book of blessings. Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you. Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, they are always statues to talk to, and benches made for sitting gives strangers a shared existence if only for a minute, these moments can be so uplifting and the conversation you get in by sitting alone on benches, might of never happened had you not been there by yourself.
Society is afraid of alone though. Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements. Like people must have problems if after awhile no one is dating them. But lonely is a freedom that breaths easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it. You can stand swaffed by groups and mobs and hands with your partner, look both further and farther in the endless quest for company. But no one is in your head. And by the time you translate your thoughts an essence of them maybe lost or perhaps it is just kept. Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those sappy slogans from pre-school over to high school groaning, we’re tokens for holding the lonely at bay. Cause if you’re happy in your head, and solitude is blessed, and alone is okay., Its okay if no one believes like you, all experiences unique, no one has the same synapses can’t think like you, this be ?, keeps things interesting, lifes magic things ?, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t connected, the community is not present, just take back to you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it. Take silence and respect it, if you have an art that needs practice stop neglecting it, if your family doesn’t get you or a religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it. You could me in an instant surrounded if you need it, if your heart is bleeding, make the best of it, there is heat and freezing be a testimate.
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