If anyone knows anything about loneliness, it’s Damian Browne. In his epic adventure of successfully rowing across the Atlantic from Manhattan to Galway, he had been alone – he had not seen another human being for 99 days – making it a remarkable feat of both mental and physical endurance.
In a world where we’re increasingly eschewing solitude, craving companionship and connection, while actively seeking distractions rather than simply spending time alone, Browne’s performance seems all the more extraordinary.
Being alone in our culture will increasingly be viewed with loneliness or as a loner. However, loneliness has very little to do with being alone and all with not feeling connected to others.
We can be in the middle of a social gathering and feel incredibly lonely.
Loneliness can be in unexpected places. New mothers, students, people starting a new life in a new place. Just because other people are around you doesn’t make you immune.
The social distancing and enforced isolation of the pandemic may have done something to our brains, causing us to run faster and faster from solitude, but studies show we’ve already been racing against time on our own, with nothing but our thoughts, to keep us company long before covid. 19 were added.
A 2014 study by psychologists from the Universities of Virginia and Harvard found that some people would rather give themselves an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. The task was for people to sit in a chair and just think.
However, some found it so unbearable that they took the safe but alarming opportunity to self-administer a mild electric shock to break the boredom.
That sounds extreme, but how many of us reach for devices to cover downtime instead of sitting in solitude? This quest for distraction may be as much about how much we value productivity as it is about the pace of modern life and the proliferation of mobile devices with constant access to social media.
The increasing race to do something rather than nothing has been building for generations. In 1955 the US author Anne Morrow Lindbergh published her compact booklet gift from the sea.
It became an instant bestseller with its wisdom for women on how to thrive in life, balancing work and motherhood while finding time to think and breathe.
“Instead of planting our loneliness with our own dream blossoms, we now smother the room with continuous music, chatter and camaraderie that we don’t even listen to. It’s just there to fill the vacuum.
“When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We have to learn to be alone again,” she says in her book.
In my opinion, this seems as relevant today, if not more relevant than ever, when the constant busyness and perpetual readiness of our lives leaves no room for being alone in our minds.
It is as if we are telling ourselves that if we are not actively involved in doing, then simply being is not enough. The more things we do at the same time, the better.
But in a world of constant noise, where distractions come at us from every direction, it feels like coming to terms with the discomfort of being alone has never been more important.
Earlier this year, as I was about to begin a book writing project, I decided to be away from my home and family for a week to focus on a mammoth task. My home for the week was a cottage in Malin Head that has been in a friend’s family for generations. At the end of an alley with no WiFi or cell phone reception, my closest neighbors were a flock of sheep.
First I turned on the radio to hear a different voice.
I turned on the TV to have company. Gradually, however, the need for noise decreased. I didn’t rush to fill the silence. I’ve felt more comfortable with my own company and the quiet.
The sounds of nature—the seabirds and the waves pounding the rocky beach—seemed to call me urgently to listen.
I spent a long time looking out the window as the sunlight glistened off the lighthouse on the island of Inishtrahull, lost in my own thoughts.
It was like hitting the reset button and it took me a day or two to get used to hearing my own voice again when I returned home.
The qualified psychologist Dr. Damien Lowry points out that during times of constant stimulation, it’s really important for our nervous system to have periods of so-called “de-escalation.”
Taking some alone time, where we’re very present with ourselves and what’s going on around us, can give us an opportunity to reflect on what’s important in life, he says. It can also boost our creativity, he adds.
While most of us will likely never experience the low periods of loneliness that Damian Browne experienced as he traveled across the ocean, it’s possible that we have windows of loneliness in our daily lives.
These respites could only provide us with fair winds and calm seas on our own life journeys.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/never-fear-the-sudden-pockets-of-solitude-they-nourish-us-and-ease-the-road-ahead-42052916.html Never fear the sudden pockets of loneliness – they nourish us and lighten the path ahead