“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays.
Let’s get this straight
There are fewer joys in life than sitting cooped up in a room, with some piping hot cuppa for company and enjoying the moment of just being. In a digital world, the concept of “switching off” and spending time with yourself is one of the most discussed yet expendable ideas. But, an (uncomfortably) obvious question remains — are millennials really ready for it? Have we really gotten to the point of self-acceptance where we can embrace solitude and welcome loneliness because that’s what we really crave?
As per a recent report in The New York Times, Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University, who studies solitude put forth an interesting observation: “We have some evidence to show that valuing solitude doesn’t really hurt your social life, in fact, it might add to it.” With this finding, she offered us a glimpse into a great secret: The key to finding joy lies in choosing it, while embracing solitude. Developing the ability to appreciate “alone/me time” offers a leeway to hone your creative side, and understand yourself better. Solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.
Choosing to spend time doing things by yourself can have mental, emotional and social benefits, but the key to reaping those positive rewards comes from choosing to spend time alone. What’s more, in a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. In fact, getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout, inferred Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist.
The Sunday Chronicle talks to authors, entrepreneurs, artists who understand the secret of solitude…
“As one gets older, being with people all the time tends to feel like cacophony—something that one can only take for a limited time. These days I find myself yearning for more and more me-time as it’s now called, to restore my equilibrium and feel happy. It’s a very fine balance here though,” begins Gajra Kottary, scriptwriter and author of Girls Don’t Cry. Elucidating the need to understand it better, before plunging into it — and enjoying it is key, Gajra adds, “For me, my quiet cup of tea — that first half an hour of the day — helps me set the tone and gather my thoughts for the day. Also sacred for me is the last half an hour of the day, spent in prayer and gratitude as I drift into sleep. In the rainy season — that I simply love — I find that simply staring at the fresh green leaves of the treetop outside my window makes me feel so relaxed. I do it virtually every half an hour, for a few minutes and find that I can write so much more and better. So doing whatever makes you happy is the tip that I would give — it’s very practical too!”
While solitude grows on some, it is an acquired taste, for the most part believes celebrity numerologist Sheelaa M Bajaj, who asserts that balance is the key. “Solitude isn’t about running away to The Himalayas or shutting yourself out completely for weeks on end. I guess, since I am fundamentally someone who has always practiced aloneness — if I do not get that lone time with myself, I end up taking up timing out, traveling for work which gives me the lone time. It’s about finding that balance. I’ve always been termed spaced out, weird and strange but I’m proud of how it’s helped me mentally.”
Defining solitude as a concept where you allow yourself enough lone time to understand yourself, Sheelaa enthuses that one needs to be individualistic in its pursuit. “It’s about not being lonely. Solitude is about filling your cup before anything else. Aloneness is about honoring yourself, your needs, and healing. Practice solitude to shut out the noise—get in touch with what’s important to you. Be the energy you want towards you. Be that to yourself first.”
Despite the concept being discussed at large, an impressive number of millennials have shed light on their inability to go to it. For movie actor Kunal Thakur, solitude found him in the unlikeliest of circumstances. So much so, he attributes it to the divine will. “When I was young and growing up, I didn’t know anything about solitude, as I always had someone around me. To an extent, the term of being alone baffled me. I don’t think I’d have even chosen it voluntarily,” he recollects, implying that understanding and being aware of the concept is what most people don’t get. “Right now, I cherish the time I get to spend by myself in the midst of a routine. But, I must say, it grew on me with time and because of my line of work — understanding the kind of character I’m going to portray required me to spend some time alone. There was a genuine need to understand things with a calm mind. Being all by yourself is actually empowering if you discover what works for you. I was an extremely sensitive child, so growing up and embracing solitude helped me grow as a person — I’d like to believe that I’m well connected with my emotional quotient. It’s thoughtful, I understand perception, I am getting a firm hold in terms of understanding how my mind works.”
Taking us through solitude that is consciously squeezed into his daily schedule, Kunal elaborates, “I wake up in the morning, making breakfast (load the carbs) and go to the gym — this is one part of the day that I do by myself. Solitude equates to savoring time by myself—it’s extremely therapeutic to be all by myself, making my own meals, getting ready to push me to go to the gym, indulging in some physical activity which gets your heart rate up and you’re alive. There are no tricks really. Solitude should keep you fresh — that’s really important. It’s important to come out of the phase of spending time alone leaving rejuvenated. The point is to take time out of the rush, and the same circle and find joy in your own company. And, what you wish to do to find it is completely your choice.”
While spending time alone equates to myriad things to different people; Pallavii Gupta, 29, Partner, Santé Spa Cuisine Bangalore believes solitude is about enjoying your company without being oblivious to the fact that you are indeed alone. “I do believe that solitude doesn’t mean being alone with Netflix or Instagram. It means truly being alone with yourself and discovering yourself. The present-day devices haven’t made life easier, rather more complex.” Accepting that embracing solitude hasn’t grown in, she believes to be comfortable with one’s self is crucial. Pallavii reiterates, “It takes me an hour to get to work. I read a book, I think about my plans and activities for myself. I listen to podcasts on Spotify. That one hour to and fro from work really helps me get some time to ponder upon my thoughts. Listening to music that I can sing along to helps me deal with my anxiety and overthinking. On days where I’m not woken up by a message or call, I try to not touch my phone for at least 15 minutes after waking up. I affirm and give my mind and body some time to start my daily routine.”
For those wondering as to how to get started, Gajra doles out an interesting observation—a rough start doesn’t always mean you’d dislike it towards the end of it. “When I was a kid, I was alone as well as lonely due to circumstances and did not like it much. But I think that eventually it was this very solitude that shaped me as a person and I slowly began to enjoy it a lot. I guess that’s what made writing, the perfect profession for me. And being a writer further reinforced the importance of solitude in my life. I can give you a really concrete example of this in my professional life. I had to take a complete break from work as I had chosen to be a stay at home mom for a few years. Despite having to take care of the kids all day, there were some hours of the day that I had to myself, to just be and to ruminate. Thankfully the pressures of social and other media were not there those days, and so I took my first flights of fancy and discovered what I truly wanted to be — that’s a fiction writer. My first collection of short stories was published and then scriptwriting happened. But over a period of time, I missed the solitude that had given me my very own identity as a writer. So I got back to being an author, alongside the scriptwriting.”
Cliché as it may sound, but more often than not, solitude finds you, before you choose it. Thinking along similar lines, 35-year-old Nibhrant Shah, CEO & Founder, Isprava Luxury Homes, states, “I think as an entrepreneur it’s very important to unplug and spend some time in solitude, whether it’s at the end of your day or week. I usually do that when I’m taking stock of the day and I spend time thinking about the positives and negatives of every task done and try to direct my focus on the positives rather than brooding too deeply over the negatives (something we all tend to do). This helps relax my mind and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Vouching for how solitude helps give his work some structure and make space for non-negotiable family time, Nibhrant adds, “Spending time to calibrate, analyse, process and plan. It is over time that I have understood the importance of some downtime which helps me rewind at the same time recharge for the day to follow. Incorporating meaningful structure and planning to my life has really helped me live my best life. Every Sunday I like to write out all the positive things that happened and make a list of all my tasks for the upcoming week, or even longer-term.”
Opening how we have all started taking on too much in our lives, Gajra Kottary believes the need to allow some things or aspects to just be dropped and have the important ones remain. “That’s the first step to take — to realise that “solitude” should stay. I learnt — I daresay the hard way — that there is no need to juggle and make a place for everything in life. Maybe the meaningless friends and acquaintances or social media updates need to go away — whatever is a drain on joy and calm,” concludes Gajra.