Last year, out of vain curiosity, I visited the patchouli-scented office of a past life reader. He consulted my astrological charts, held my small, cold hand in his large, warm one for a moment, and hummed dramatically. His kind, brown eyes swept over me once, then twice, and he leaned back in his chair, pursing his lips in amusement.
“You’re quite old, you know”. I was intrigued. How could I not be?
He went on to tell me about my past lives in great detail, surprising me with how well he could pinpoint things about my current one. According to him, there’s a reason the desert fills me with anxiety, and a reason my belly leaps with bittersweet joy in the presence of horses. And a reason why, even though I’m surrounded by wonderful people, I love nothing better than to be alone.
You see, according to my visionary friend, I am, at heart, an ascetic. I’ve spent lifetimes wandering alone in the forest with calloused feet, or in silent prayer on mountaintops. I’ve been an ale-brewing monk, an exiled wisewoman accused of witchcraft, a political refugee on the run, an obsessed scholar on the brink of a breakthrough. All of these lives have made me independent and solitary, most comfortable in my own company.
I’m not sure how much stock I put in these little stories, but the psychic certainly got one thing right – I love my solitude. I was that kid who pretended to be sick so she wouldn’t have to go outside and play with the neighborhood girls. Being alone is like releasing a long-held breath. It returns me to myself, heals me, strengthens me for the next gruelling social gauntlet I’ll inevitably stumble through. I love people, but being social drains me. I’m just an introvert. And it took me a long time to understand and accept that, believe it or not. The pursuit of solitude is kind of treated like an illness, or a symptom of inner turmoil, instead of the healing, very necessary practice it really is.
A lot of folks I know aren’t comfortable doing anything alone – even if it’s something as mundane as going to the post office for stamps. In the last decade, quiet moments have been driven to extinction – our first instinct is to reach for our phones, to try to recreate that sense of connection by collecting double-tapped hearts or thumbs-ups. It’s a response driven by fear. Humans are social animals, after all.
But I think that we can all benefit from a little solitude, even the extroverts among us. Being alone gives us space to just exist within ourselves, to percolate a little, to drain away the ephemera of daily life through silent contemplation and boil ourselves down to our true essence.
It helps us to know ourselves better, to understand our own motivations, our own feelings. Confiding your woes in a friend is wonderful and restorative, but people will always assign their own interpretations to your life. It’s important to explore your own perspective first and foremost. It’s an exercise in trusting yourself.
I’ve also found that solitude is the best tonic for a creative block. There are whole universes in your head, but they’re quiet compared to the noise of everyday life. And when you strip away the distractions, calm that desperate urge to connect, and let yourself just exist, often these universes find a way to speak to you. Boredom is the mother of genius, after all.
Now, I’m not recommending that you drop everything, move to an Ashram, and take a vow of silence. But next time you’re in a coffee shop, try putting your phone away and just listening to the conversations around you. Take a walk, and leave your headphones at home. Turn down a social invitation once in awhile, and just hang out on the couch with your dog. Let yourself be bored. Let yourself be lazy. You might find that you’re in good company.