On Being Alone

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed being alone. Maybe it’s because I was an only child. Or perhaps it’s a matter of disposition. Or both. Whenever anyone asks me if I miss having a sibling, even now, I think, What a ridiculous question! A sibling would have inevitably interrupted my much-cherished alone time. 

With regard to my respect for solitude, my attitude has changed very little over the years. For me, solitude has always been a space of rejuvenation. Of self-care. Of learning and imagination. Long bouts of journaling and daydreaming. Tea drinking. And otherwise reveling in the spoils of inactivity. I am by nature an introvert. Still, I imagine that, regardless of one’s place on the introversion–extraversion scales (a dichotomy that, in many ways, I still can’t help but be puzzled by, but more on that below), a bit of solitude is good for the soul. Is necessary for growth, reflection, and self-acceptance. For the art of conversation. And, of course, for the flourishing of creativity.

Here are some thoughts on the importance of being alone:

Creativity is born of solitude.

It, perhaps, goes without saying that we need solitude to create. And not simply for the act of putting our pens to paper. For sketching, painting, collaging, sculpting, or music-making. But for the many imaginative exercises that must happen first. For immersing ourselves in the aesthetics of a harmonious space. For daydreaming. Designing. Plot-making. Performing various rituals to coax our imaginations. To engage with our inner worlds. The rites of creative activity.

Indeed, I have long believed that some of us—creative people, in particular—experience our thoughts, our mind’s images, as if they’re too close to the surface. Somehow immanent. As if we have these great, vibrant, lush inner worlds that are exploding with life, that exist just beneath the skin. And that the routine activities of our daily lives do nothing but steal us away from. It is in solitude that we unleash their magic. 

Solitude is necessary for balance.

For as much as I cherish alone time, I could never be alone all the time. And whenever I do spend too much time alone, the rejuvenating effects tend to dissipate. And are quickly replaced by restlessness. Boredom. Agitation. Loneliness. I crave interaction just as I crave periods of solitude after too much social interaction. And feel myself to be horribly out of balance if I go too far in either direction. 

It is, I think, a point worth making that, for many of us—creatives, especially, or so says my research—introversion and extraversion represent muddy ground. That is, they’re more like moods, flexible or transient, than fixed personality traits. Sometimes, for example, I feel very sociable, chatty, friendly, even gregarious and behave in those ways. I may even feel energized by social situations. If I’m in the mood. And if I’m not in the mood, which I’d say, is just more than 50% of the time (and used to be more until I landed my first sales job, which forced me to actively work on being more outgoing, engaging, and assertive), I feel stressed and easily overwhelmed by social interaction. And how I answer questions related to this dimension of my personality is entirely dependent on my mood when I’m being asked. I’ve been labeled both I and E on different personality tests. And always smack in the middle of the scale. 

walking girl in red

On the whole, I see myself as both introverted and extraverted. Or, rather, I have a near equal propensity for both (with a slight bias in the introverted direction). Based on my experience of myself, the concept seems a rather fluid one. Malleable. And all a matter of seeking internal equilibrium. Each knowing for ourselves what it means to feel balanced. With solitude, in varying degrees, for different people, always acting as an important antidote to our fast, often noisy and action-filled, daily lives.

Solitude is required for self-acceptance.

Whenever I go out alone, I try to be cognizant of how and how much I am using technology. That’s because there is something inherently disconcerting to me about being in a roomful of people—say, in a café, bar, or in line at a grocery store—and having my face buried in my phone. But I catch myself doing it. And when I make myself put my phone down and look around, I catch a whole lot of other people doing it, too. But, we’re isolating ourselves even more, I think. 

When, in reality, I don’t believe any of us is trying to be more alone. We are instead engaged in the business of distracting ourselves from our aloneness. From our self-consciousness of it. From the anxiety of being singular and alone in a roomful of people, many of whom are also alone. And are likewise seeking comfort in the appearance of being busy. Of being too busy interacting with others elsewhere to treat the present environment like anything more than a nuisance. Half of us in these moments, I imagine, are filled with a false sense of self-importance. The other half with fear.

To reach the point of self-acceptance, I think, is to bear the anxiety of being alone until it dissipates. Because it does. But if we never allow ourselves the luxury of solitude, of the intimacy of our thoughts, feelings, and desires, of listening to ourselves in our moments of conflict and sorrow, we’ll never know it. That it’s still possible to stand comfortably, lock eyes with the stranger standing next to us, and smile.


A Quick Congratulations and a Thank You

…to T. Blake, the artist whose name and work have appeared on this blog, now, a countless number of times, for having his work accepted into the Hauntedwood exhibition at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs, CO this month. I am excited that he asked me to participate in his project, a much larger display, which includes the poem below:

19.jpg

You can find more of his work (and more of my poetry, of course) in my chapbook, Seven Road & Other Poems.

18 thoughts on “On Being Alone

  1. As always, what you write seems to lead me to think about the meanings of things (and I mean that as a compliment). While I was reading this post, I imagined the states of mind of either introversion or extraversion as light switches that turn themselves either on or off. Most of the time I am an introvert, but then, when I am around others in a social situation, especially when I am drinking beer or wine with friends or family, I become more extraverted and I often enjoy the experience. I enjoy forgetting about myself and just being in the moment, which I guess right now I am equating with being more extraverted. I am spontaneous when I am alone, for instance at my desk writing, and I am aware of it only later on. So I guess spontaneity, at least in my case, works in the same way whether I am alone or with others. I must become lost in the moment (in order to find myself again before the conversation or writing experience is over?). Thanks for writing such a stimulating post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the thought-provoking comment! I had hoped you would have something to say about this post. 🙂 I had not thought to link self-consciousness to introversion/extraversion. But that’s very interesting. I, too, enjoy social situations more when I am less self-conscious. (And a cocktail or two never hurts.) Although I surely experience greater losses of self-consciousness when I am alone. Perhaps that is a major “comfort” factor in being alone for many introverts. Also, when I was reading your comment, I noticed your use of the word, “spontaneous.” Maslow often uses that word to refer to self-actualizing adults. Those who are capable of spontaneous creativity, etc. I suppose it is that loss of self-consciousness that allows us to reach–or, in a sustained way, equals–the heights of human development. Thank you for the wonderful comment!

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  2. Ahhh the solitude required for creative types. I relate to the concept of balance in both alone time to ponder ideas and then time with others to express, explore, test them. I have heard this labeled “ambivert”. It’s like being somewhere in the middle or conditionally introverted/extroverted. Blogging is a great example—the creative act itself is introverted but the expression is extroverted in connection with others on ideas even if just in a limited way.

    I also think M.C.’s comments on creativity/solitude may be somewhat limited by the focus of his research of flow/peak human performance. My understanding of that body of work is that it was done purely at the individual level vs how teams perform optimally. Meaning putting individuals in flow together does not necessarily equate to a high performing team. 😉

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    1. I haven’t read/researched much M.C., even with all the reading I’ve been doing on creativity. (There’s so much to learn!) But I thank you for the explanation. It’s always interesting to me how we come to know and use many of these concepts without fully understanding how they came to be, what their limitations are, etc. I do imagine I/E scales measure something significant about our personalities, but they’re probably pretty tricky to construct, especially when (or if) creativity/other seemingly dependent or related factors are taken into account. Thank you for the comment! I think “ambivert” is probably pretty accurate. 🙂

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  3. A fascinating post! I’ve thought a good deal about this and with some hefty self-awareness thrown in I can say that i’m probably 60% introvert and 40% extrovert, but that extraversion has grown with age and experience and I can spontaneously surprise myself with it sometimes. I love company and I love solitude, but solitude is always my default mode for restoring my energy and spirit and yes, I need to be alone to create. I learned how to be more sociable with a sales job, like you, and that has certainly helped me over the years. Essentially though, the more the level of self acceptance and wellbeing within myself the happier I am alone. If I’m feeling ‘off’, not right in my own skin, when I’m alone, then I know something has disturbed my equilbrium and that it needs addressing – being alone acts as a monitoring devise. The sense of wholeness I can achieve with solitude brings a confidence to my extraversion. So a kind of balancing going on for sure!!

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    1. Thank you, Lynne! It certainly seems we are of a similar outlook and disposition. 🙂 I sometimes think that learning to be more extroverted and balancing sociability with a natural preference for solitude has helped me become more creative over the years. It’s like a means of expanding our personalities, becoming more of a “whole,” balanced, or fully-functioning person, which I imagine is both spontaneous and creative.

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      1. You’re very welcome! And I hope you’re having great success with your recent published book!! If you ever have a moment of boredom, I hope you’ll join me over on my blog I’m still writing and sharing thoughts with my offline friends, an a few dear online readers. Likes are not needed.🙂 Maybe you’ll even find a line of inspiration? Enjoy your alone time! It is a precious commodity for wellness within!☀️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you very much! Hmm…I don’t think I’ve been receiving updates on your new posts. I’ll have to check that out. I am always happy to visit your blog. Keep spreading positive energy with your beautiful words, my friend! 💙

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      3. Thank you too! Your reply is so kind! My writing is nothing to write home about, but it’s enjoyable to write words of the heart that just may touch another! Your recent piece of literature has inspired me to write about time alone or private time. The words have just not come to me yet. I don’t have time to sit for hours and try to put a poem together but when the words come to me, that’s when I write them down.
        Enjoy creating magic with words! As always, I’m looking forward to reading your next piece! My blog is unfortunately set to private. That may be why you haven’t received any new posts?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes, that’s probably why. I am flattered that you were inspired by this post. Take your time, and when the words are ready, I am certain they’ll come out right. Take care, friend!

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  4. I really enjoyed this read, your point of creativity is born in solitude stood out to me. Having our own space to dive into our minds, exploring new ventures or touching on our creative past can only be achieved when we are content with the space that we are in. Your point of having a routine can steer us away from our creativity is something I never thought about since I thought routines are things we must follow to operate normally. But when we continue with something for so long, we become unclear on who we are and what we are capable of. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the generous comment! I am glad segments of this post resonate with you. Some rituals and routines, I think, are very helpful. They can be enriching, soothing, and help us find depth and meaning in everyday activities. Other routines (or too much routine) can deaden our senses, make for too much predictability and not enough novelty and stimulation. I think the idea is to stay aware and for each of us to find the right balance for ourselves. Thank you for reading!

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