There is a great difference between loneliness and solitude.
Loneliness is experiencing a lack of something, while solitude is beautifully full.
Loneliness is feeling a lack of vast inner resources, including peace, compassion, wisdom, and love. Solitude is our vehicle for connecting with these same things.
These are resources I was not fully aware I possessed until one day in yoga class about 10 years ago as we laid on our side just after savasana and the instructor said: “This peace you feel right now, it is always here for you.”
Those words brought a tear to my eye. I was suffering from anxiety at the time, and I didn’t understand that I could always access this support. Once I knew this was possible, I began to cultivate a more peaceful “aloneness.”
Up to that point, I had avoided being alone. If I was physically by myself, I would fill my time with anything: books, movies, phone games, even random browsing on the web. I would insulate myself from any feeling of loneliness with outside things.
Why would I want to be with myself and feel my anxiety more acutely?
I think it is human nature to want to shelter ourselves from our inner workings. We avoid being alone to put off the discomfort that can sometimes come with being face to face with “our stuff.”
But if we can’t stand being alone, it may be precisely the thing we need most.
Because what we avoid, ultimately, is a kinship—a sweet friendship we have the opportunity to develop with ourselves. We need our own friendship, our own affection and appreciation. We deserve our own compassion.
So how do we get there?
>> Often, if we have been running hard or avoiding solitude at any cost, we need to begin with compassion. We can summon a kindness that softens the edges of our discomfort or self-judgment. We can observe with interest—rather than sadness or frustration—the moments when we’re hard on ourselves. This spaciousness is the gateway to kinder wiring.
>> Try carving out time in your day and week to be alone. Start wherever you need to. Sit with the ache in your heart or the fear in your gut. Take a cell phone-free walk, alone. Walking can help us ground and process our thoughts.
>> Connect with nature. Even on a cold or rainy day, there is so much to see, hear, and feel when we slow down enough.
>> Sit with a metta mantra. “May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I be peaceful.” Bring yourself home to the resources that are inside, ready to support you should you ever slow down enough to remember to ask.
>> Community support is also essential. We need one another’s support, listening ears, and affection. But we can best provide this to others when we’ve done the work ourselves. When we’ve sat with our own suffering, we will be far better prepared to be present for someone else’s.
Solitude is where our inner resources are not only discovered, but strengthened. The more we sit with ourselves regularly, the more our peace grows. The more focused we become, the better we listen, the better we hear our own deep wisdom. The more we hold our suffering in compassion, the more space we have for joy.
May you connect meaningfully with your sweet self today.
Author: Rebecca Polan
Image: Author’s own, Photographer: Matt Reinhardt
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis