May 15, 2014

A Social Experiment: Alone vs. Lonely. ~ Guenevere Neufeld


“We are born alone and we die alone.”

~ Swami Radha

I like to subject myself to social experiments.

What can I say, there’s something within me that wants to know things, especially know things about myself.

As a student of yoga it’s kind of my responsibility to watch my reactions to things—how I’ll respond in certain situations, what thoughts will arise, what emotions will absorb my energy.

We all get to be these little scientists in our lives, watching with the compassion of Tara and Kuan Yin put together as we go on with our days.

I once decided to do a “solitude experiment.”

Now, don’t let the name fool you. At the time I was living in an intentional community, an Ashram, with upwards of 100 other “roommates” at any given moment. I shared a bathroom, tea station, dining room, living room, workspace, you name it, with many people.

The season was changing and the community responded by having its usual moving week. Rather than let things get too stagnant, short-term residents like myself tended to switch rooms every few seasons.

Practicing change in our lives shows us things: do we cling to familiar, find faults in what is new, or accept that change is part of life.

Now, for full disclosure, as part of my role in the community I worked closely with the people responsible for assigning rooms and used this sway for my new placement. So much for a complete lesson in non-attachment.

I requested that I get the room across from the meadow, just off the summer kitchen that, unlike most accommodations, was the only bedroom in that building.

It was going to be my solitude experiment.

No more brushing my teeth with others at the hallway sink, or waiting until the tea kettle filled someone else’s cup before brewing up my kombucha batch, just me able to rock out with my guitar as loud and as late as I pleased.

The experiment was a complete success. For an introvert like me, being around people all day can be very draining. I need my alone time in order to recharge. It’s not that having other people safely stowed in their bedrooms in the same building as myself is inherently draining—I always have the option of simply closing a door to retreat into privacy—this was something greater.

I could open my bedroom door and be greeted with the fresh scent of a breeze lifting from the lake. I could watch the squirrels rummage around on the deck and playfully leap to the reaching branches. I could be alone.

It was exactly what I needed.

As with most things done in a spiritual community, I talked about my experiment with my colleagues. We talked about the difference between being alone and lonely. It was a distinction I was learning to define. I was certainly not lonely. I was deliciously alone.

Fast forward a couple years to today.

Again, I’ve made the conscious choice to live in a dwelling inhabited solely by me. My dishes in the sink, my pictures on the wall. No roommates to cook with. Me.

This time, I don’t have the demands of a day filled to the brim with a well-known community to retreat from in the evenings. I worried I would slip out of the “alone” section of the continuum and into the “lonely” bits. I’ve been watching myself.

I keep wondering if I’m going to get sick of my own company (I’m not, I love my own company. The silly things I think—and say aloud. The joy I get at creating meals for just me). I keep waiting for some important life skills to degrade to the point of uselessness (They’re not, I am still a witty conversationalist and warm, empathetic being if I do say so myself).

I keep thinking something’s going to go wrong.

I realized this illogical fear the other day and noted it in the charts I have to keep track of these experiments of mine (I’m kidding, I don’t have charts. I do, however, maintain a journalling practice).

I realized it was unnecessary—this part of my mind that wanted to go toward the negative, that thought something had to start going wrong because something was new and different.

That’s not the only way I can perceive change.

I don’t have to allow false associations like alone equalling lonely to sway my reality.

I can open my senses to what’s really going on, to my present thoughts, emotions and feelings, to what’s real.

What’s real is that I get to create my life exactly the way I want. And right now that means living alone.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Flickr / Lance Shields

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Guenevere Neufeld  |  Contribution: 4,315