by Gary Z McGee
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal
We live in a hyper-connected world. The benefits of which are revolutionary. From the cellphone to the internet, information technologies have brought us closer together as a world. But despite all the amazing benefits, the problem with being overly-connected is that we tend to become connected to everything except ourselves.
The peril of a hyper-connected world is often a lack of personal connection. We’re so hardwired to be connected to others that we often lose sight of connecting with ourselves.
And why not? It’s scary to look within. I mean, why be alone when we never have to? Why think our own boring and depressing thoughts when we can entertain ourselves on the exciting thoughts of others?
This kind of reasoning can be a slippery slope into addiction. Because we can easily get hooked on using the world of others to block out the discomfort of knowing ourselves. The more we seek out distractions that help us avoid ourselves, the scarier the unknown aspects of ourselves will become, and the more likely we are to become addicted to “other-than-selfness.”
But no matter where we go, there we are. So eventually we’ll have to deal with ourselves. The question is: will it be on our own healthy terms or on our repressed shadow’s terms?
That’s what makes the art of solitude the most important skill nobody ever taught you. Becoming adept at the art of solitude is putting our uncomfortable confrontation of self in healthy terms.
Simply put, the art of solitude is the vital ability to be alone and to allow for a deep connection with the Self. More complexly put, it’s the ability to integrate with reality (both inner and outer) the way it actually is, despite cultural conditioning and societal brainwashing, and to practice overcoming the Self to the extent that both interdependent integration and self-overcoming become an artform.
The irony is that connecting with ourselves makes us better at connecting with others.
As Steve Monahan said, “Curiously, and importantly, mastering the art of solitude doesn’t make us more antisocial but, to the contrary, better able to connect.”
It’s the same with the concept of love. The healthier our self-love is, the healthier our love for others will be.
As the great Osho said, “If you like a flower, you pick it. If you love a flower, you water it. Appreciation over possession.”
When we merely like ourselves, we, divisively and codependently, “pick” (dissociate) the qualities that best suit us and then repress the rest, which eventually becomes shadow energy.
But when we love ourselves, we learn to “water” (honor) the whole of ourselves, holistically and interdependently; to include the boring and depressing thoughts, the ugly and negative qualities, the regrets and griefs and guilts and fears, all of it, so that it doesn’t become an unhealthy, possessed demon inside us.
Learning the art of solitude is learning how to appreciate the Self rather than possess it.
Here are the four main benefits of learning the art of solitude…
1.) Deeper self-consciousness
“We are stronger than things are terrible.” ~ Jordan Peterson
Solitude leads to a deeper appreciation of the self because there is nothing to distract you from engaging your inner self. Away from the addictive quality of others, you are finally able to account for the turmoil within.
All the anxieties, doubts and fears come to the surface. This is scary stuff, sure, but this is the raw stuff that makes you the “you-est you.” Self-appreciation is learning how to engage with yourself in a holistic way.
This means facing down and reconciling your inner demons. It means coming to terms with your griefs, guilts and fears and authentically honoring them so that they don’t dishonor you later. Deep solitude puts these in perspective.
This leads to a deeper self-consciousness because it teaches you how to respect and appreciate what makes you unique and authentic, however eccentric, ugly or disturbing that uniqueness may be.
2.) Deeper eco-consciousness
“Modern man has lost and destroyed his instinct and can no longer trust the “divine animal” and let go the reigns when his understanding faulters and his way leads through deserts.” ~ Nietzsche
Deep solitude leads to a healthier relationship with both Nature and our “divine animal.” It teaches interdependence over independence over codependence. It reveals the interconnectedness of all things and how our instinctual self is an aspect of the whole.
Eco-consciousness leads to an eco-centric, rather than an egocentric, perspective. From this perspective arises a deep eco-morality that is sensitive to the balance between nature and the human soul, and which pinpoints the vital difference between Healthy and Unhealthy and the importance of moderation in all things.
Deep solitude helps us to finally hear, and begin to understand, Mother Nature’s “language older than words (Derrick Jensen).”
In this sense, deep solitude is transcendent. A relationship with the numinous, the divine, and the spiritual manifests itself in this interconnectedness. God (the integrated whole) becomes something we can finally have a relationship with.
3.) Deeper creativity
“Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purpose through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is ‘man’ in a higher sense— he is ‘collective man’— one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic forms of mankind.” ~ C.G. Jung
Constantly outflanked by the juggernaut of the status quo, we get caught up in the daily grind of maintaining our tiny comfort zones. At the expense of adventure and creativity, we cling to safety and security. At the expense of unique expression, we give into the hype of being a well-adjusted cog in the cultural clockwork.
Practicing the art of solitude is a way to break the mundane cycle. It’s a way to flip the script and rewrite it, to turn the tables on a system that constantly seeks to corral us. By getting out of our own way, the art of solitude helps us to update our dull habits and boring routines with creative Beginner’s Mind.
Deep solitude teaches us deep vulnerability. This deep vulnerability helps us dissolve the vain walls of invulnerability that we’ve erected around our comfort zone. In this sense, we become better able to surrender to ecstatic experience.
The wild and vulnerable heart of a person who dares to lose control and experience the extraordinary within the ordinary, begets the fountainhead overflow of creativity (art). The seed of the extraordinary is planted in the settled loam of the ordinary, and the formally dearth and banal texture of the human condition becomes ripe with flourishing and Eudaimonia.
4.) A deeper sense of freedom
“Too much of the animal distorts the civilized man, too much civilization makes sick animals.” ~ Jung
The art of solitude teaches us how to be balanced and present. It teaches us how to be healthy. When we can get away from the “rat race,” we’re better able to see why all the rats are racing and then compare their reason for “racing” to what’s actually healthy.
When we are able to integrate the whole into our perspective, we become free in a way that no prison (real or imagined) can contain us. We go from being merely a Self-perceiving-a-world to a World-perceiving-itself-through-a-Self.
This is the ultimate beauty of the art of solitude. It teaches us that no matter how alone we feel, we are all connected in a sense that goes far deeper than any amount of internet connection can portray.
Deep solitude teaches us this profound tautology: It’s only when I’m alone that I realize I’m never truly alone. The lone wolf, the “divine animal” inside us all, understands this.
As Atticus said, “We are never alone. We are wolves howling at the same moon.”