We tend to lament alone time as though it were a burden spontaneously imposed on us by the changing circumstances of life, unaware of its benefits.
When we happen to find ourselves alone or momentarily unoccupied, we can’t bear to sit in that empty space. We douse ourselves in technology and substances to block out the silence and stem the surge of lurking emotions.
In culture, we associate solitude with loneliness, withdrawnness, weirdness and torturous solitary confinement. We’re told from a young age that human beings are social animals and that we ought to fit in.
But the conventional wisdom is faulty. Constant external activity is maddening. And try as we might, we can’t run from ourselves for long. Being alone is an inevitable part of life. And in running away from it, we never find our inner gold – the ability to become truly comfortable with ourselves.
The Solace of Alone Time
Far from being a form of torture, solitude has a swathe of benefits and is one of the keys to experiencing long-term fulfilment and authenticity. Alone time is a psychospiritual practice. It’s deeply therapeutic and is vital for processing those darker elements of ourselves that we usually attempt to drown out.
For our psychological health, we ought to have regular doses of alone time, much like how we do regular exercise and take vitamins and minerals. Our goal is to turn this dynamic around and see aloneness as a vital component of our lives, as crucial as close friendship, and regularly reap its benefits.
So what are the benefits of alone time?
The Benefits of Alone Time: Recharge
First, solitude helps us recharge the batteries. The social arena requires continual attention, response and reaction. We experience constant emotional charge and sensory stimulation. This is exhausting.
Solitude cuts out all those external demands on our attention and energy, bringing us back to centre. This is especially true for introverts. Their high baseline level of neural activity is quickly overloaded by additional stimulation, making solitude an impending, periodic need.
Be With Yourself
Second, it’s a fantastic way to release blocked emotions and face parts of ourselves that we’ve hidden from.
Have you ever noticed that during difficult times, you tend to look outward, seeking external salves like attention, stimulation and confirmation? Even in moments of light boredom or slight emotional discomfort, we automatically divert our focus to the external. The smartphone is always on, ready for endless, ultimately fruitless scrolling. We avoid confronting ourselves and our inner world.
When we withdraw ourselves, the external activity diminishes and the dust settles. We can then take a long look at what was inside us awaiting our attention. We come to face emotions and thoughts that we were avoiding. It’s the perfect time to pay exquisite attention to what’s going on inside.
This is often a frightening prospect; we never know what we might find. On the other hand, it’s deeply healing to process emotions and thoughts that were obscured by outer stimulation. Psychic material rises up, and we can pay close attention to it.
Contact Profound Joy
The inner material might surprise us. It’s likely we’ll encounter inner demons, unpleasant emotions and hidden aspects of our personality. But we could also find a deep level of contentment, a sense of abiding happiness and satisfaction that we only contact when alone. In any case, we experience a rawer, purer version of ourselves. We can use this experience to gain deep knowledge of our identity, our joys and our troubles.
It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.Marcus Aurelius
Solitude is the perfect time to deeply connect to our inner voice and authenticity. These are drowned out and distorted in the social arena, where we have to wear masks and keep tabs on dozens of elaborate roles.
If always surrounded by others, we eventually lose our own voice, and our identity smudges together with theirs. Endless interchanging between our wardrobe of social masks has us lose touch with our essential self. We regain contact with it by digging deep into our fundamental identity.
Ultimately, we’re not the avatars we create. We’re not the pictures on the film stock. We are the light that shines through it. All else is just smoke and mirrors. Distracting, but not truly compelling.Jim Carrey
By withdrawing, we gain a deep intimacy with our authentic identity and deep desires, above and beyond our obligations to conform, please and present a desirable front. This knowledge then informs the rest of our lives, increasing our level of authenticity, fulfilment and self-expression.
The Benefits of Alone Time: Into the Transpersonal
And beyond fostering psychological self-knowledge, spending time alone helps us penetrate into the transpersonal and connect with the blank, lucid self that’s beyond our identity.
The soul is in this body for a period of time and then it leaves the body. In a way, the body is like a suit.George Harrison
We’re the blank page upon which our human identity is drawn, not the identity itself. In moments of solitude, we can detach from our obligations as a gross, physical self and go deep into that transpersonal self. This isn’t just enormously therapeutic: it connects us with the underlying canvas of reality, which is more real than its surface appearances. Ultimately, we gain a freedom that no amount of change to our gross self can bring.
Solitude was my only consolation – deep, dark, deathlike solitude.Mary Shelley
The Benefits of Alone Time: Anchoring During Difficult Times
Finally, alone time is crucial in times of crisis and change. During these periods, we often lack direction. Others will readily step in and impose their prescriptions for the ideal life, bombarding us with shoulds and musts.
They often do this with good intentions. They want to steer us out of the choppy waters and help us find a compass. But the effects don’t match their intentions. Inevitably, their advice is based on their limited life experience that is far detached from our own authentic desires and the realities we face.
Following the north star of another is invariably painful and fruitless. If what we want is fulfilment, inner strength and peace of mind, this strategy cannot work – by definition. To feel full and live out our unique life story, we must honour our own ideals. When we lose them in such moments of crisis, we must go on a quest for new ones, ignoring the temptation to imitate.
During such times, separate yourself from others – physically and emotionally. Go deep inside and ask fundamental questions about life, seeking authentic answers. We all possess an inner wellspring of inklings and deep desires. But it can only speak if there is silence.
Cultivating Alone Time and Reaping the Benefits
We must have regular alone time at our disposal. If we’re busy, this means carving out time. It’s winter, a season of introspection and low energy, one in which we’re often forced into inaction. It’s the perfect opportunity to build our solitude muscles.
Build the Solitude Muscle
The process of falling in love with alone time is akin to developing your taste palette. It takes time to stomach solitude. If we feel uncomfortable when home alone for a day, it makes no sense to book a week-long holiday on a remote island.
If we fear aloneness, it’s likely because there is deep, unresolved material in our psyche. This needs to be gradually teased to the surface and worked through before we seek lengthy solitude.
From minute one of your alone time, cultivate presence with what’s going on inside you and around you. Pay attention to the sights and sounds, along with your mental and emotional activity. This doesn’t mean we sit and stare at a blank wall. As long as we pay close attention to ourselves and what’s going on inside, we can do almost anything.
That said, a critical part of this practice is to remove distractions. If we want this time to be transformative, we must avoid staring at the TV or scrolling on the phone. Avoid distracting yourself from yourself. We need space, stillness and slowness. Do activities that bring out joy, creativity and inspiration while retaining that inner awareness.
Taking your awareness deeper, feel that the environment, your body and your mind aren’t separate. They’re viscerally and sensorially intertwined. Watch how your mind seamlessly and automatically interprets all sensory activity, before processing and filing it away in repetitive and recycled ways.
In doing so, the mind warps our raw perception, drives our behaviour, dictates our emotions and mental state, and jeopardises our joy and spontaneity. Hold this awareness steady throughout your alone time.
Melting into this non-duality takes us into our essential state as a human. Life is not a drama of us, a mortal, finite entity, lodged behind the eyes, battling against the physical world; it is a lucid, fully embodied, very real dream that we’re fused with. We have our self; we are not our self. When you remove external demands and drop all your self habits, it’s much easier to hold this transformative awareness.
Finally, be brave. Solitude can be challenging, and this is why we tend to avoid it at all costs. Have the courage to feel troubling emotions. Like a monster under the bed, their tyranny dissipates when we boldly turn towards them. Contact them, hold your awareness on them, and watch how they massage you in real time. Over time, this becomes a source of relief and relish rather than trepidation.
The Result of Prolonged Alone Time
With time, our palette changes. Solitude goes from being an object of trepidation and suspicion to a source of joy, replenishment and transformation. Man-made distractions look frivolous and flimsy.
We take solace in that deep, lucid, transparent self that we’ve always been but have simply forgotten. We calmly sit with who we are, letting everything rise to the surface – pain, tears, joy, wonder, everything.
We have built the perfect, lucid pond in which to observe our own reflection.