Today it is all about sharing, connecting and staying connected. We can’t wait to share on various social media our joys and sorrows and pictures and more, not just our own, but those of others via the articles we have read, videos we have seen and opinions we have echoed. We can’t seem to stay away from the mesmerizing light of our smartphones and the pings that constantly call for our attention. We don’t want to miss any update, and want to stay connected — with everyone else — except ourselves.
How many of us can honestly say that we are in touch with ourselves? How many of us constantly need the company of others – real or virtual in our lives to make us feel good? Can we be comfortable with ourselves, in our own company?
Recently we visited our niece who has two kids. The younger one, a cute boy of three is a constant ‘talker’. He wants to play the moment he is out of bed and calls one of us to give him company. He is happy if you play with him but equally happy if we are not able to and he has to play by himself. Only, he chatters to himself while he plays! My niece recounted how it was very different with the elder one, who hated to be left alone, when she has used the same kind of upbringing for both of them.
So does it mean that the capacity to be comfortable in one’s own company is all in individual genes? Or can it be consciously cultivated? Perhaps it is a bit of both?
I remember my mother advising us not to continuously lift or play with infants and babies in the family lest they start demanding constant attention as they grow. While it is not safe to leave babies and small children out of sight for any length of time, one can still keep an eye on them being in the same room, talking to them and letting them see one around. That effectively prevents them from getting scared or doing something dangerous when left unsupervised. I am sure she must have followed this rule while we were growing up because all of us siblings are happy being by ourselves if need be even in our elder years.
By contrast when the older one was a child, I would have to assure my MIL that he was fine and that she should leave him to play by himself for a while. She of course was never convinced! Today I am glad that both the boys enjoy their own company as much as they do that of their dear ones and friends. Perhaps their solitude genes are dominant despite their grandmother creating a protective environment?
I feel that when children grow up being left by themselves for brief periods of time, they are more equipped to handle it when they have to be alone due to circumstances. I have seen people getting restless when they are alone – not due to any insecurity or fear of being alone, but because they cannot function when they are not surrounded by others. And when such people are forced to be alone, they can go to pieces or into depression. This includes the old and the young and even the very young. But when someone wants company 24×7, it sort of gets a little claustrophobic for those around.
Some people actually prefer being alone to being in the company of others but it could be because they don’t like being around people. This post is not about such people.
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. We can be lonely in the company of others, in a group or even in a crowd, but we need not necessarily be lonely when we are alone. It is how we relate to ourselves that makes us either lonely or otherwise. Where is the question of being lonely when one has one’s own company?
Solitude can be a very educative state. I recently discovered meditation and find that is able to calm me at least for a while before all the thoughts come clamouring in. I hope to refine my practice to make it last for the entire day some day soon! While meditation and introspection at home or in special retreats are ways to connect with one’s inner self, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. For them one of the following ways can work.
One of the best activities that can encourage being alone is reading but reading does not provide for that connect with oneself, just affords the reader some time alone to pursue one’s interests. Yes, sometimes it makes people think, reflect and introspect, but that depends upon the kind of book one reads and is not always the case. By and large, reading or listening to music are passive pastimes/hobbies.
There are other hobbies that can help foster the love of one’s own company in a positive way. And these necessarily involve doing something actively, something that can be done mechanically with just a tiny portion of the consciousness clued in to the activity. Often one is worrying, fretting or being mad or sad which is not good because when one is is in such a frame of mind, it is not possible to connect to oneself in a positive way. Of course, sometimes the activities themselves help calm the nerves. I can cite the example of cooking to illustrate the point. It is a perfect activity that can afford solitude and ‘me time’. But one should never cook when one is upset or angry, as it is fraught with negativity and it would be harmful to those who consume the food.
The solo rides that the younger one goes off on from time to time or the long bicycle rides the older one took when he was a teen — just riding — are activities that induce introspection, encourages working on problems and in general being in one’s own company. I remember them both coming back charged up after such rides, one on a machine and another on a mechanical mode. I take long solo walks to the same effect. Exercise bhi, solitude bhi!
This inner connection is something very personal that can touch one deeply and leave a wonderful and lasting impression. Small snatches of solitude are just as fine, but when one can afford to take it, a longer sabbatical from everyday life can infuse fresh energy into oneself. Like the time I spent in Rishikesh some years ago – alone but in a crowd. I talked to the pilgrims and tourists, the shopkeepers and all the others with whom I interacted through the day. But I was alone with myself. I didn’t try to form friendships, for I didn’t feel the need and I never for a moment felt lonely. It was a complete disconnect from my normal world. At the end of it, I had become calmer, someone who could see things in a different perspective, more tolerant and generally able to deal with things more effectively. I felt in control of my life. If a few weeks of being in one’s own company could do it, I feel it is a wonderful thing, worth being pursued by everyone periodically.
This is not to say that I don’t enjoy having people around me. In fact, because I am comfortable in my own company, I enjoy the company of others – a lot! Also, if you want others to enjoy being with you, you should know how to enjoy being with yourself. Look at it this way: If I can’t stand myself, how can I expect others to bear my company? In effect, it also teaches me to be pleasant around people, because no one would want a grumpy companion, would they?
So are you up for some creative solitude to connect with yourself?
Image courtesy: Swati Maheshwari