One of the things I love about White Storks is the fact that they are both social birds and solitary birds at the same time. They migrate and nest in groups and are often seen preening each other. But, when they’re hunting, they prefer to stand alone in a high place where they can oversee the territory.
I see myself reflected in this behavior. I’m a gregarious person and I enjoy working, playing, and carrying on conversations with other people. I love discovering how other people explore the world and lending a helping hand when they get stuck. But the times that I can return to my solitary space and be alone with my thoughts are the times that I become recharged and renewed.
This is not something that came easily. For a long time I lived in fear of being alone. And I think that many people know this fear. Being alone is often seen as synonymous with loneliness. And loneliness presupposes that one does not feel connected to other people. The fear of loneliness and isolation keeps us from enjoying solitude and it isn’t until we have been able to let go of that fear that it becomes enjoyable.
There’s another fear associated with solitude and that is far more instinctual, even primal. Homo sapiens learned at an early stage that safety was in numbers. Living in large family groups or tribes kept preying carnivores or marauding neighbors at bay. Even now, it is wise to consciously take measures to make sure that you are safe from harm, that you can reach someone in case of emergency, etc. if you’re planning to spend time alone. Last spring I did a three day wilderness solo. This primal fear of being alone and unsafe was one the strongest emotions that I had to deal with. I describe this in my blog Fear (May 20, 2014).
Last weekend I spent three days with several friends, basking in the warmth of our time together. It was a time of learning, a dance of delicate balances: consciously choosing when to go along with the group and when to listen to my own wants and needs. It was wonderful, warm, and easy to get accustomed to. However, as I drove home, I looked forward to easing back into my solitary life.
But the first 24 hours at home, I found myself slightly at loose ends. In three days, I had grown accustomed to people around me. I had to readjust to having no conversations, distractions, or empathy. And this led me to a third interesting aspect of solitude: there is a slightly addictive quality to having people around all the time. And so, if you are used to it, being alone feels uncomfortable. The way people, who have stopped smoking, feel uncomfortable without a cigarette. By recognizing this, I was able to let it go.
And what is your relationship to solitude? Do you enjoy it? Do you fear loneliness or feel unsafe? Are you so accustomed to having people around you that you feel uncomfortable alone? Please share your thoughts!