“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”
― Albert Einstein
Youth is often restless, energetic, demanding. It feeds off of constant distraction and stimulation. The youthful mind doesn’t know how to entertain itself or how to be alone so it’s constantly looking outside itself to fill this gaping hole. And when it fails to secure what it desires and needs the most, it becomes bored, lonely and unhappy.
I know this not only from observation but from my own personal experiences. I spent many hours complaining about being bored when I was young and to be completely honest, there were many times when I felt incredibly lonely and depressed. At the time I simply didn’t know how to exist with myself and my own thoughts. I embraced the external while shunning the internal.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” May Sarton
As I got older I found myself slowly changing. I didn’t set out with a specific goal to become more comfortable in my own company; rather I was pulled in that direction out of necessity that maybe at a conscious level I didn’t fully understand. I started to embrace and even seek out alone time. Solitude had not only become acceptable, it became a necessary part of my well being.
In situations where I once paced the floors, where every option that came to mind for killing time was dismissed because it wasn’t exciting enough, I’m now content sitting with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and just existing. The reliance on outside stimulation hasn’t been eliminated though, I still need it, but its power has been diminished.
I now start almost every morning on my deck, or in my office, taking time to ease into my workday. When I lived on my own, I spent many nights simply reading or listening to music. Some might consider this boring and antisocial but I find it incredibly satisfying.
“The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.” Thomas Edison
There were several reasons for this shift, I believe. We now live in a world that has become increasingly skilled in the art of distraction and noise. We’re bombarded by e-mails, calls, meetings, and so many other “demands” that if we allow it, this chaotic environment can not only destroy any sense of calm in our lives but prevent us from achieving the things we most want to achieve. Our minds are in such a constant state of motion addressing one distraction after another that, even if we don’t realize it, we need time to just think and listen. Listen to our surroundings on our own terms but more importantly listen to what’s going on in our minds.
“I like solitude. I like the anomalous life. I like a quiet life.” Eric Clapton
For me, solitude, while good for the soul and a sense of peace, is a compliment to my life. I still need companionship, relationships and interaction. Being around those I love will always be essential for a happy and fulfilling life.
This then might be the biggest difference between being alone and being lonely; if you’re surrounded by people you love and value, time alone is an opportunity to recharge and replenish and it becomes much more meaningful knowing that once you’ve filled your cup, they are waiting to reap the rewards when you return.