As the world spins faster with emails, tweets and Instagram, most humans need several ways to cope with the resulting pressures. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we have it together. Otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances, and feel like we can never get everything done. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways to relax is to seek and enjoy solitude.
From the start, I will make a big distinction between solitude and loneliness. Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. I feel that something is missing. I have been with with people and still felt lonely—for me the most bitter form of loneliness. Loneliness is harsh and is a punishment of sorts. It is clearly a deficiency state marked by a sense of estrangement and an awareness of excess aloneness.
Solitude is being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. It was an epiphany for me when I found that I was very good and sufficient company. Solitude is a time for reflection, a way to touch your inner yearning. Deep reading requires solitude as does experiencing the wonder of nature. Thinking and creativity evolve from periods of solitude as an awareness that everything has been created in oneness. The blade of grass, the tree that stands, the bird that flies, and the living, breathing human being all share a oneness with the divine.
Solitude permits peacefulness and a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and drawing sustenance from it. This is something to be cultivated like a spring garden. Solitude leads me to contemplative prayer where I commune with the divine. It is refreshing; an opportunity to renew myself.
Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others
The SOLITARY SANDPIPER
Almost all sandpipers migrate in flocks and nest on the ground, but the Solitary Sandpiper breaks both rules. In migration, as its name implies, it is usually encountered alone, along the bank of some shady creek. If approached, it bobs nervously, then flies away with sharp whistled cries, leave me alone! In summer in the northern spruce bogs, rather than nesting on the wet ground, the Solitary Sandpiper lays its eggs in old songbird nests placed high in trees.
This lovely bird forages in shallow water, moving about actively, picking items from the surface. It also loves to probe mud looking for something delectable. While walking in water, this creature may pause and quiver one foot, presumably to stir up small critters from the bottom. The Solitary Sandpiper feeds on many insects in the water and along the shore, including beetles, dragonfly nymphs, grasshoppers, crustaceans, spiders, worms, mollusks, and occasionally small frogs. They are happy birds.
A long-distance migrant, these birds winter mostly in South America, especially around swamps and riverbanks in the Amazon Basin. They apparently migrate mostly alone and at night. In the spring they reverse the pattern and prepare for mating season, a popular event among Solitary Sandpipers.
The SOLITARY HUMAN
To be a happy and healthy person, most of us know that we need to sleep well, eat right, and exercise. But how important “human connectedness” is to our overall mental, emotional, and physical well-being is another matter. For a lot of folks there is a tendency to obsess over the past and worry about the future (instead of simply being present), and too much time alone may have mental and physical health consequences. Human connection anchorsour awareness firmly in the present (instead of worrying and obsessing when alone). But we seem to be following the path of the Solitary Sandpiper.
While the very best cure for loneliness is a strong “in-person” social network (i.e. not Facebook) and a loving family, this isn’t possible for everybody. Unless we go back to tribal living like our ancient ancestors, a more realistic solution is ideal. For me, meditation has allowed me to lose my sense of self and creates a feeling of oneness with my surroundings. By making me feel connected to everyone and everything, meditation cancels the detrimental mental, emotional, and physical effects of my solitude. While friends come and go, meditation is there for me.
The strangest thing is that more and more people in our society and in all countries around the world are choosing to adopt a strange, never-before-witnessed lifestyle, on a very large scale … that of the lone creature. Who is this masked man?
- In the 1950’s, 22% of American adults were single, and 4 million lived alone. In 2017, there were an estimated 35.25 million single-person households in the U.S. The number of single-person households has increased gradually since 1960. There were more than 82 million family households in 2017. In 2017, 45.2% of adults in the USA were single. Senior citizens accounted for 18% of all single folks,
- In Stockholm (2017,) 60% of all households had just 1 occupant.
- In the US (2017), solo dwellers constituted 31% of all households.
- Most solo dwellers in the US are primarily women (about 19 million), compared to the 16 million solo men. Most are middle-aged (35 – 64 years).
- In the 1950’s 500,000 young adults (18-34 years) lived alone. In 2017 5,000,000 lived alone. Some 55% of 18-24-year-olds live in their parents’ home and 16% of those 25-34 live with their parents.
- The 4 countries with the highest rate of people living alone are Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. 40-45% of all households in these countries have just 1 person.
- In 1996 an estimated 153 million people lived alone throughout the world. In 2017, of the world’s two billion households, approximately 15 percent – or 300 million – are one-person households. What an astonishing social and cultural shift! Whereas once solitary confinement was given to criminals as a punishment, now more and more people are actually finding it desirable. A question we need to ask now is why? What on earth for?
Call it self-centeredness, or cloud-watching, but these days we have become interested in ourselves more than others. Our lives revolve around “my career”, “my happiness”, “my image”, “my Facebook status”, “my success”. Our lives revolve around ourselves. We no longer care about selfless living to serve God, country or people.
Is this a necessarily bad phenomenon? Admittedly, it does does have the potential to create many problems both within and without ourselves if we don’t take time to sincerely invest some in a spiritual life and the happiness of others. But there is a positive side to this social shift from group to individual– it gives us space to breathe, to look into ourselves, to do that which makes us happy and whole. We can discover more about ourselves – our strengths, weaknesses, desires, motivations, behavioral patterns – with little to no distractions. Essentially, living alone gives us more time to focus on ourselves, assisting us in developing our abilities that can ultimately better our lives, and the lives of others. My exploration of things spiritual began when I began living alone, which would not have occurred otherwise.
Living alone gives you the ultimate freedom to wind down and relax, helping you to recover from your busy and intense work days or volunteer activities as the case may be. Living alone gives us the time and freedom to explore and work on our passions. Most of the greatest writers, artists and musicians connected with their creative selves in solitude as it provides the best environment to think, to dream and to create. On the other hand, living in a house occupied with multiple people makes it very difficult to completely relax in peace and silence.
You can do what you want, when you want, where you want when you go solo. You don’t have the drain and pressure of having constant, tedious duties to fulfill, and you never have to walk on eggshells around other people. This can be both a good and bad thing: while living with others can actually teach you beneficial life-skills, giving you first-hand experience in “how to get along” with other people and how to compromise peacefully, it can also repress and hinder you from living a harmonious and enjoyable life.
We live in a highly connected society that demands us to be present and engaged in the exterior world of gossip and news almost 24/7. There is a relationship between the demand for constant connection, whether online or on the job, or in your world, and the enormous increase in the amount of time we spend on our own. Living alone gives me the gift of time, time that allows me to focus on what means the most to me, rather than superficially dividing and throwing around my attention here and there.
Solo dwelling creates a harmonious balance in my life that allows me to enjoy and value the presence of other people more. It’s human nature to take our friends, family and loved ones for granted. Living alone, devoid of the presence of others, helps me to appreciate these people more when they arearound.
When living alone, we have no one to cook for us, clean for us, wash our smelly undies or grubby socks. It’s completely up to us to take care of ourselves – because if we don’t, no one else is going to. When we realize that we canbe self-sufficient, and we cantake care of ourselves, we develop a lot more respect for ourselves. This in turn enhances our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I cleaned my first toilet at age 62 and felt good about it.
Single life continues to be beset by notions that singles are less secure and more self-centered than married people. The belief is they tend to die sooner, alone and sad. Yet observations of people who live alone typically find that most are doing just fine; they don’t feel isolated, nor are they sad and lonely. Reports of the early death of single people have also been greatly exaggerated , as have ideas that marriage transforms miserable, sickly single people into happy and healthy spouses.
In some significant ways, it’s the single people who are doing particularly well.