In today’s society, people are more comfortable with being physically alone, but only because they have their smartphones to keep them company. “Alone but not lonely” has taken another meaning. But when you come to think of it, people who are alone among strangers are not really alone when they have their phones that they use to communicate with multiple people at the same time. They are probably even busier than when they are in face-to-face communication with other people, because with their phones, they can multi-text, or multitask.
I personally think it’s nearly impossible to let a day pass without using the smartphone. I know I cannot, especially when I am living away from my young son, and every day I video chat with him and my family to make sure everything is alright. Businesspeople would probably lose money or business if they miss a call or message from an important client. Employees and students may miss an important announcement. Truly I can understand how difficult it is for people who have already made online communication an integral part of their lives, to forego using it even for a day.
However with people’s addiction to social media and online games to pass time, people are getting farther and farther away from knowing the one person that they should know best: themselves. It is sad seeing adults posting numerous pictures of themselves and what they are doing on social media. One can forgive young people, as they are still growing and their brains have not fully developed (until mid-20s), and therefore, neurologically speaking, cannot be considered mature or be expected to act or think like an adult. But quadragenarians and older should know better (unless their brains, too, have not as yet fully developed.)
With social media addiction, it seems people know more about what other people are doing than they know themselves. And that is all they know – what others are doing. They do not really know the person they are “following” (or really, stalking) because, online, there’s hardly any sharing of thoughts, only small talk. Worse, social media can cause undue stress to people who post or read information, as everything that is made public can be commented on and used and abused by all kinds of people with all kinds of I.Q., E.Q. or mental condition.
I am not against technology or social media at all. I know its benefits. I use them every day of my life. But I hope people will find a way to use technology and social media in more meaningful ways. They can certainly make our lives easier, and they should. Technology is supposed to help humans live more comfortable lives, not a stressful one. Technology has allowed us to have more time for ourselves, and this is one of the greatest gifts technology has given us. We can be more human – we have more time to think, more time to feel, more time to know ourselves and become better people.
And we can only achieve that if we know ourselves first. We need solitude – not only to relax or relieve stress, but also to know ourselves better and be able to understand others better.
Next time you have stress, try putting your phone away, be quiet and try listening to your heartbeat, and then to every single sound that you hear, be aware of every movement that you feel or see, every scent. Just be in the present. The more you do this, the sharper your senses will be. And you’ll know your body. And you’ll know and understand yourself. That’s better than sighing after playing Bejewelled, don’t you think?
“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” -Marcus Aurelius
Nothing relaxes me more than being alone and quiet on a quiet beach– feeling the ripples touching my feet, seeing the waves at a distance and hearing their rhythmic sound like a mantra, smelling the briny scent of the sea and feeling the breeze on my skin.
I had lots of quiet moments at quiet beaches back in the Philippines. I have one precious memory of being in a stilt-hut a few meters from the shore. It was part of the property owned by the Carmelite Sisters at whose monastery I was having a one-week retreat. One week of quiet except for a one-hour visit three times that week from the retreat directress.
Whenever I get overwhelmed with tasks and life, and I cannot go away to have some quiet time on the beach, all I do is recall that time of solitude — quiet, and peace, and self-awareness. And that’s enough to relax me.
May you have a relaxing week. 🙂
Every Chinese person I know feels uncomfortable being alone. I still have to meet one who is happy at being able to spend one day alone. Even my monk friend is very sociable and enjoys being with people all the time.
At first I thought it was just the young Chinese who feel this way, until one day my husband asked his mom if, when she was young, she had ever spent one day alone not talking with anybody, and she said never and that it would be terrible not to have anybody to talk with for a day!
From the conversations I had with most people, young and old alike, I get the feeling they think of introversion as some kind of disorder, and that people have to be outgoing. If a person is a quiet type or prefer to be alone, then they think that person is strange.
Today, Christmas Eve, I saw the egret on campus again. It seems it survived the (relatively) cold winter alone. Of course there’s no way of knowing if egrets can feel happiness or not, but it did look content to me as it searched for food in the shallow water. Seeing the egret again (if it is the same one) reminded me of my conversations with people about being alone. It seems hard for many to accept that one can be solitary but not lonely. Especially in China where people swear they cannot survive spending a day without anybody to talk with, or where you can hardly meet an unmarried person over 30 because if they are 25 and still single, their parents would panic and set them up on blind dates, the idea of solitude is as unimaginable as dying without having contributed to the population of the race.
But I think of the single people I know (not Chinese), and the ones who always find time to be quiet, and I see them more content with their lives than the ones who are more sociable and go out often. They certainly have fewer worries than those who are married or those who have several circles of friends. For one, single people who do not have children do not have to worry about their children and the children’s tuition and their future. For another, they enjoy the freedom that most married people or parents can only look back to with a sigh. They have more time to devote themselves to developing their talents and focus their energy on their interests.
As a wife (to a man who has a different cultural background), mother (to an autistic toddler) and a teacher (who faces a class of 35 students 14 hours a week), I insist on having as much time alone as I can. I go out for walks and have lunch or coffee alone. I get stressed when I am CONSTANTLY with people, be they family or friends or acquaintances. I guess being Asian and living in a country such as China where people are so eager to give you their two cents and feel guilty if they have no advice to give even when you do not really need one (they mean well, of course) , it can be overwhelming to be in the company of people.
So I can truly understand people who want to be alone and are content to be alone. One can be alone and still find contentment. In fact like I said in another post, we all need to experience alone-ness. We all need to be solitary sometimes and to experience solitude. As Thomas Merton once said: “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love others. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.” May you find time for solitude and consequently find love and contentment in your life.
The other day I read about a father who sang a song and played the guitar for his dying baby.
I couldn’t stop crying, and just wanted to hold my sleeping Eli as tightly as I could.
There is so much pain and suffering in this world, but since I was 19, I have always believed and seen pain and suffering coming to an end, joy taking their place, and making people stronger, until the next round of pain and suffering comes.
A friend once called me masochistic because I said I liked feeling sad and experiencing pain because the experience made me think and introspect, thereby making me know myself better. And thinking and introspecting always give me peace and the energy to go on living in such an absurd world.
When I am down or just want to vanish from this world, I am blessed enough to remember the only time I had a one-week retreat in a Carmelite Monastery by the sea. It was so long ago, almost twenty years ago when I was at the height of searching for answers to questions that my mother worried were driving me crazy. (She always complained that it took me forever to finish doing the dishes because I was always lost in thought!)
For one week I was mostly alone in a 4-story building that was the retreat house. My retreat guide came to visit me twice and did not stay longer than two hours each time. I had a room on the top floor which was close to the big balcony that faced the sea, where every half an hour, a ferry from the west port would cross to the south port. I stayed out in the balcony in late afternoons and waited for the sky to turn from orange to gray and then black； and then the lights from the ports came on, and I could see the lights from the ferry moving in the darkness. In the morning I went to a wooden gazebo on stilts right in the water connected to the retreat house by footbridge made of bamboo. I would listen to the sound of the small waves as they hit the bamboo stilts underneath, smell the briny scent of seawater, and hear the occasional squawk of a bird overhead. These images, sensations come back to me as clearly as the time I was there.
My theosophist friend with whom I used to spend a lot of time talking TO (she just listened most of the time, bless her) once told me that one reason we miss somebody or something too much when they/its gone, is that when they were there, we did not give our whole self to them. Our mind perhaps wandered to somewhere else, and so our experience of them was incomplete. So that time when I was on a retreat, I made sure I was completely there. I watched,listened and felt my surroundings. I will say I miss being there, but I can also “go back” to that place whenever I need to. I can have a few minutes of peace and serenity just by remembering my time in that retreat house.
I do not mean to offend people who suffer because I, too, have suffered, but I find beauty in suffering and pain. I get energy from knowing that this suffering would come to an end, and when it does, I will experience joy, and it will be very sweet just as sweet food tastes even sweeter after eating bitter food.
But to find beauty in suffering, one needs to get away from everything. One needs to be quiet and look within to be able see better what is outside. This is nothing new, and I’m not trying to sound like an expert on this subject, but I speak (write) from experience.
These days it is extremely difficult to have some real quiet. People cannot get away from their cellphones. For everything that happens in their life, no matter how trivial, they feel somebody else has to know. Or they feel they have to know what other people are up to. People are so concerned with what they look like on the outside that they have forgotten to look within and know themselves, who they really are and of what they are capable. There is more self-absorption than self-awareness , and it does not help anyone.
I hope we can all find time, especially when we are down, to get away from it all and go to a place –physical and/or spiritual — where we can recharge and be better equipped to face life’s absurdities.
Have a pleasant week!