Solitude: Alone, But Not Lonely
Somewhere along the way, American society has lost sight of the value of solitude. Yet, getting to know your inner self through solitude is key to enriching your life and your relationships.
Away From Ourselves"A century ago, most people lived on farms in the country in isolated family units," says John Selby, a counselor, teacher, and the author of Solitude: The Art of Living with Yourself . "Everyone was forced to establish a relationship with themselves alone. Solitude was a positive aspect of life." Most people enjoyed a relationship with nature that made them feel less alone, he adds. But, suburban living has diminished that connection. Instead, we turn on the TV to avoid being entirely alone. "The media," he says, "have replaced nature." We also place a far greater emphasis on the need for relationships outside of the family than our grandparents did. This increased reliance on relationships with others shifts our focus even further from our inner selves and our needs as individuals, and more towards who we feel we are or should be in relation to others. "It's difficult to maintain a sense of personal integrity if we are always outwardly focused," says Esther Buchholz, PhD, author of The Call of Solitude: Alonetime in a World of Attachment.
Solitude Is…Solitude, Buchholz says, is the need to retreat psychologically and sometimes physically to modify stimulation and to "reconstitute how one functions by one's self." In other words, space to breathe. However, people have preconceived notions about solitude, that somehow it is a negative thing. Because even the dictionary definition of solitude includes terms like isolation and lonely, Buchholz prefers to use the term alonetime instead of solitude. Alonetime helps you learn who you are. To function at your peak you need to know yourself, and alonetime provides time for self-examination. The degree of solitude we each require is partly inborn and partly learned. People who are more introverted will feel a greater need for solitude than those who are extroverted. Regardless, from a very early age, we all need at least some alonetime. Buchholz notes that the need for alonetime is probably present from birth."We would not survive very well if we did not have some self-regulatory and alone skills to help us achieve a balance between stimulation and lack of stimulation," she says. "Nature provides time alone in sleep, but our society is so geared toward attachment and engagement and 'busyness,' that alonetime has been lost."