Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.”
I have long been inspired by the concept of ‘being alone’, or yet, better put, by being comfortable when being alone. This is something that seems so far-fetched right now, because even in one’s own company, in an unstimulated environment, most people are still not alone and are connected through the phone or the internet to others. How many of us are actually alone? At least once or twice a week? A month? You see, it’s really not so often and it is much more difficult than it may first seem.
I recently really read an incredibly inspiring and very well-written book, called “Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World” (which I would highly recommend). The book is interspersed with recent psychological studies, a reflection on recent technological developments and what this all means for us living in the way we do now. I won’t write a full review here, but what struck me most was how the author really wanted to feel what solitude is like and how such a seemingly simple concept was actually quite difficult to obtain.
He asked what is it really like to be away from noise, from other people and more importantly, from your handheld mobile device? At one point, he writes how he went on a long walk by the cliffs – gasp, without his phone – and he was extremely aware, that should anything happen to him, or he slips and falls on some rock, he is actually… alone. That sounds like a frightening thought and indeed, that was all he could think about when on his walk – would something happen? Would he be eaten by birds? How long until he’d be found? Which is funny, because just as far back as 20 years ago, walking alone without a phone was quite common indeed.
So, the fact that we now are well and truly citizens of the technological age, means that it’s more and more difficult to feel comfortable when being alone. And this means a great deal of change in our psyche and in our development. For what we fear now, was never or rarely a fear before and so a great shift has taken place.
I personally have been very drawn to quietness and have always tried to protect myself from outside noise or stimuli because I found it to be very draining. I in fact didn’t even own a smartphone until as recently as 1 year ago because to me, the thought of always being ‘on’ seemed more like a torture than a blessing. However, to also have a social life and to not rack up £500 phone bills, it is pretty indispensable. Because now, most of our interactions happen through a screen, whether e-mail, Skype, Whatsapp or Facebook – it is the way of communication. I dare to say, even when you are in physical presence of others, how many times have you been dismayed to see people still on their phones?
Now, this isn’t a rant about technology – that post is sure to come later – but it is just a short exemplary on the fact that we now just cannot be alone. At least, not very easily. To be alone is such a precious gift, it can transform you and the way you think, even if the experience is only a few hours, but is it easy to get this luxury? Personally, I do not think so. However, I will always try and schedule some quiet time when I am at home, and my phone is almost always away from me and on ‘do not disturb’ mode so that I am not bothered by constant rings and texts.
Before, to get a quiet environment, all you have to do is go outside to a quiet park and there you can feel free and undisturbed. Now, even in the comfort of your own space, it is much less common to get to this state and it is something that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
I do hope that we can all still remember the art of solitude, and although it feels we have been programmed to stay as much away from it as possible, it is only this solitude that will bring truth to our being and give us time to be present and reflect on our own lives. It is also something that can catapult us into creative thinking and bring forth new ideas and developments. For no great thinker, writer, composer was able to do their work well whilst in the middle of noise or what we’d call now ‘notifications’.
As a final note, I would like to add, that it’s not just sitting quietly that can bring us this solitude, but I find the art of writing also helps to bring your thoughts together and give you time to reflect. So in case you’re also worried about going for a walk in the wilderness sans cell-phone, then sitting down and writing reflectively could induce a very similar state. We should welcome these solitary pauses into our life, not shy away from them. Then we can see how much we have truly missed them.