“To realize the Self is to be still.” — Ramana Maharshi
It’s quite the paradox — but I’d venture that this unhealthy reliance on social networking is really just a symptom of a more complex issue: monophobia.
We live in a society in which we are fearful of being alone, because aloneness has somehow become equated to loneliness. We are fearful of being still, fearful that we will miss out on something. We are socialized to do, and say, and strive for things — everything. We are socialized to consistently chase and collect experiences.
And it translates into a compulsion to constantly be present: here, there, and everywhere else. (Did someone whisper FOMO?)
Often times, many of us find ourselves tangled in the middle of this web. As I type this, I have about seven tabs open: news, Facebook, crappy reality TV, think pieces, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of investing in a life fully-lived. I believe in meeting people, and doing and seeing things; in knowing things; in living experiences and staying connected to those experiences in a variety of ways.
But I also know and believe in the importance of being alone. I believe in not running from aloneness, but rather in embracing solitude as a gift to be savored and cherished. A couple of years ago, my dance instructor introduced me to a form of Japanese dance theatre called butoh. Now, while butoh wasn’t always my cup of tea, I will always remember the words of Min Tanaka, a pioneer in the art form, which my instructor would often quote:
“For me, being able to be alone is the basic search of the human being.”
Psychological theory on identity and belongingness tells us that humans are social beings, that we are pre-programmed to connect and forge relationships, that socializing is an integral part of a healthful existence. But what happens when that evolutionary predisposition collides with a modern society of 0s and 1s—and implied expectations that insist and ensure that we are always connected and never truly by ourselves—? What happens when that compulsion to externally connect overrides the necessity to internally connect?
According to Tanaka, we must find our way back to contentment in solitude.
At my core, I’ve always been quite a recluse; and that trait has evolved as I’ve grown. In fact, I’ve found that sometimes it can be quite the battle just deciding between enjoying the solitude of my own company and succumbing to the latent, socialized monophobia. At the most trying of times, I have to remind myself of the collected wisdom of myriad philosophers, theorists, and knowledgeable and successful people, gathered over the centuries; from Aristotle to Oprah, the message is consistent:
There is clarity and enlightenment in solitude.
Breathe and be.
Sometimes that aloneness intersects with feelings of sadness, but that is not always a thing to run away from. While brooding and immersing oneself in negative emotions and thoughts can be detrimental, leaning into and feeling through these emotions is not always a bad thing; sometimes it is a way to get intimately acquainted with who you are as an emotional being.
“Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.” — Lao-Tzu
In the same way you cannot know another person unless you spend time with them, you cannot truly know yourself until you spend time with you. And as you learn to know yourself in that stillness, you will also learn to understand the world around you better.
To be alone is not to be lonely: You exist in those gaps.
Nana T. Baffour-Awuah is a Ghanaian-born-and-raised, world-is-my-oyster type eternal Cancerian flower child. He is a Brand Strategist with a degree in Psychology, a predilection for poetry, and a love for chocolates, good drink, twilit adventures and New York City lights. You can find him here.