"Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses
the glory of being alone." Paul Tillich
the glory of being alone." Paul Tillich
Adulthood is lonely. And by lonely, I mean the mere act of being by yourself. There is a difference between loneliness and just being alone. There's inherent value assessment there. The former comes with negative implication, and the latter is nothing more than an ambiguous state of being. I think we are socially conditioned to want the company of others, to be in contact, and to communicate. I also think we rely too much on others to determine who we are instead of spending the time needed to decide for ourselves who we are, and even more so to not decide who we are in relation to others. It's only natural. We spend the majority of our lives surrounded by people whether with be family, friends, or community - then, suddenly, you're on your own. Seeing other people becomes a deliberate act instead of a mundane reality. We have to do things of our own accord, make decisions, exist, and persist. We have to deal with our realities. We have to come to terms with who we are, how we are, and why we are. We have to figure out this world, our place in it, and how we claim the space we deserve. If we have always been inundated with the beliefs, opinions, feelings, experiences, etc. of everyone us - what's left when we block out the noise, or are left to our own devices. What is our truth? Who are we? And, who are we when we're all alone.
I heard some grad advice that was bluntly true but missed a critical nuance that made it most effective. It mentioned the twenties being a person's loneliest time in life. Not only is that limiting, but it's incomplete. Loneliness is something we're afraid of, only because we've been made to. What happens when you pivot loneliness to tranquility, equanimity, ease? Even reading those words brings different feelings to our minds and bodies. I think our twenties can be a time of quietness, contentment, and harmony. I think we have to make it so. It doesn't just happen. It's a process. It's purposeful. It's challenging but I am more at peace with myself than I have ever been. In a world, a society, and a culture that bombards us with images, stories, and experiences wherein we're supposed to be surrounded by others constantly, there is something revolutionary about defining ourselves for ourselves as opposed to in terms of others. It's individual instead of interpersonal. It's you for the sake of being you. Clarify you, so when you reach out to others (and adulthood is all about intentionality in connection) you know why. When we do that, and take the time to explore being ourselves by ourselves, we get a more vibrant perspective on life with us being central to it.
The best decisions I have made in life have been moving to a new place where I didn't know anyone. I did it for college, then again in grad school, and yet still now for my job. I have never been more scared in my whole life each time I embarked on these adventures. Starting all over entails hard work of building up your network, support system, and social circle - but the foundation of all those things has to be us, and our relationship with ourselves. The only constant is you, and if that constant is unstable then everything built on that will be as well. Leaving one place for another is challenging, not just because you're leaving the safety and comfort of familiarity, but because you have idea what is going to happen next. I think the underlying fear though is that you're going to be alone. But why did that scare me, and moreover why does that scare us? Truth is I was alone. I have been alone. I continue to be alone for long periods of time.
In reality, I spend the majority of my days of alone. I can be out in public, but even then it's still just me. Being alone forces you to become better acquainted to you, and I avoided it for so long supplementing others, relationships, tasks, etc. for doing that work in getting to know, when come to find out, my own companionship is damn good. I had to turn being alone from loneliness into solitude. I had to embrace the solace that comes with that. I had to sort myself out, become better acquainted with me, and find my inner voice. I didn't require the approval or input of other people to guide me - I could and should determine my own life for myself. The thing was I already had learned how to navigate the world, but I had become so used to taking the directions or believing myself to be living life to please others, that I had gone into autopilot. It was finally time to not just chart my own course but to do the adjustments all along the way. As much terror as there was in that realization, there was more empowerment in that. I had control. I could depend on me. I was prepared. I was capable. I could do anything. I could go anywhere. I could enjoy life, explore my world, live fully ... for me. I found that freedom to be liberating. I felt lighter. I had more hope. I was happier. My mood, energy, enjoyment, etc. were determined by me, and nothing, and no one else.
Getting comfortable with being alone takes both time and practice. It's an adjustment. It's sitting in your own skin long enough to actually deal with the thoughts you have when it's just you. It's gaining control of how you see yourself. It's dictating on our own terms what we want and what we need. It's letting ourselves be free because for once there is no one else around. Embrace it. Embrace yourself. Embrace the discomfort. Greet it - greet you, like an wayard friend. Treat yourself with the kindness you show others, and find your inner peace - the peace that lays latent within you. Who are you when you're alone? Do you like that person? Do you know them inside and out? Do you get along with them? Self-talk is so crucial to adulthood. When you're alone and the voice in your head, speaks up - what does it say to you? Is it kind? It is encouraging? It is positive? Do you like what it says?
Learning to speak to you with grace, gratitude, and hope is a lifelong process, especially if your self-talk has largely been negative. For all the times I found myself beating myself up about imperfections, making mistakes, being embarrassed, flawed, etc. I tried to say something to myself about what I was good at, what I did well, what could be appreciated, and what I was grateful for. It was changing my perspective on me and how I showed up. It was asking the furthering questions of why did this impact me so much, and does it matter. I found more often than not, the things that I talked myself down about didn't, and if they did, that I needed to process them, learn, and let go/move on. I have this newfound appreciation for myself. I am in love with me. I love who I am, and who I get to be. I like the company I give myself. I find myself funny. I'm still working through being happy about who I see in the mirror, and that's okay. I listen to me more. I stop when I need to. I know my limits, and know when to push myself. I know what I need to keep moving forward. I prioritize me more often. I am gentler. I am more conscious. I'm self-aware. I'm in my body instead of it being a vessel and a vehicle for me to be in vicinity to others. I wish for nothing more than for people to get to have an appreciation for who they are, and how they are. Knowing who you are, your worth, and yourself for all that you are makes being alone more than bearable, it's pleasurable and treasured. And we all deserve that from ourselves. X