If You're Having Trouble in Isolation: Read This
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion." - Albert Camus
It would be very accurate to call me a lover. I love people, words, even foods deeply, maniacally, obsessively. Once something is the object of my affection, I can do little to resist total emergence and indulgence, celebrating it in every possible way. Sometimes that is productive; my adoration for a new project leaves my creative and physical energies at it’s whim. Sometimes it’s more impulsive; I recently went through a phase in which I was so helplessly obsessed with mango, I ate it in every conceivable way multiple times a day through the entire summer.
These are the kinds of loves that are chosen. But this month in Los Angeles, we are invited to indulge just as recklessly, with just as much abandon as if we’d chosen it, to be recluses. Whether we call this forced to stay at home, a choice of our own safety, or a unique and divine respite from the world, we have the choice to embrace this opportunity for quiet, stillness and reflection with little to no obligations in the way with open arms.
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more” ― Lord Byron
We have around us the opportunity to redefine our seclusion as something more positive, starting by defining it as falling in love with our inner selves and our home lives. Sure, it may not be by choice, but is love ever a choice? Do we always have free will in who we fall in love with and why? I would bet not, and happily so, because now such logic challenges us to fall in love with our more private selves, the self we keep hidden from the world, the self that keeps our secrets, the self we too often deny and silence and altogether ignore by distracting ourselves from her. Well, here she is: your constant companion and roommate for the next month or longer. So why not learn to love her as you would any partner, *despite* her flaws and fears and insecurities. And *for* her aspirations, her wild imagination, her brazen vulnerability.
Your acceptance of this government mandated self isolation may have at first been met with a small sense of relief (no responsibilities) followed quickly by the boredom induced in it’s unending silence. You might be feeling restless, frustrated, or most painfully but beneficially of all: confronted. Yes, confronted. By your bad habits (the constant desire to snack as a way to dull and numb and entertain yourself). By your past choices (the realization you do not want to, may cannot will yourself to go back to life as it was before, maybe in a job you hate or a routine that doesn’t suit you). By your future (the path ahead that now needs reassessing, reevaluating, and replanning in light of sudden drastic financial and emotional changes). If you are feeling that the rest of your life should look differently than it has until now, and that you have been jolted awake to certain truths of your existence that both empower and humiliate you, then you are right where you need to be.
Scientifically Proven Benefits of Time Alone
Increased empathy - space to re-evaluate your place in social circles and the importance of others, your differences, and what each unique individual contributes to the whole
Increased concentration and productivity - uninhibited, uninterrupted time and energy to put towards your personal goals, passions
Enhanced mental strength - spending time with one’s self is said to lead to: increased happiness, better life satisfaction, and improved stress management. People who enjoy alone time experience less depression.
Opportunities for self reflection - such reflection that can lead to deeper connections with others, a clearer sense of intuition and self assuredness, and future life planning
But all this knowledge and facts on solitude may not make it any easier for you. A few days in or a few weeks into solitary confinement even in the comforts of your own home may lead to a stir-crazy energy that must, must, must be released, and no one could blame you. But it may not be in the outside world that such pent-up energy is asking to be released. After all, that’s how we got ourselves here: in our perilous and needless pursuit to expend ourselves, seeking from the outside world too much safety, security, accepted-ness. And the need to express, to see and be seen, may not be so easily calmed by our reintroduction to society as it would simply be diminished, oppressed yet again by whatever bar, or person, or conversation, or work project might distract us for however long.
“If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre
The alternative is certainly uncomfortable. Because the alternative is presence, surrender to the current unmoving and unchanging state, and acceptance of your inability to force things to your want and whims. And what a beautiful lesson! To learn to be still, accept, surrender, be. To be able to learn - free of the work pressures and the expectations of your friends and even the need to dress the part - learn to be with your feelings, your thoughts, your deep fears and greatest aspirations. How exactly does one do that? It is less about effort as it is about still willingness. Surrendered observation of our thoughts. But here are a few wonderfully fun ways to go about it, should you need a slight roadmap:
Start asking questions. And start answering with authority.
Your heart and mind have more to tell you than you realize. Deep within you is the peace you’ve been looking for, and the answers to where you have been, where you are going, and what will truly make your life - in confinement or not - more fulfilling. The problem is, those answers aren’t always pleasant. In fact more often than not, that force us to face uncomfortable truths about how we spend our time, numb our emotions, and pretend to be ok when we are not. So start asking questions of what to do, what matters, what should come next...and start answering with authority. Your life is the question, and it’s answer, in action.
Notice. Acknowledge. Label.
If it hasn’t already, expect it to get uncomfortable. Expect to feel some guilt heading to the cupboard for the tenth time and yet some desperate need for whatever you reach for inside it. Expect your most self-sabotaging tendencies to come forward - the way you avoid finishing a project, or the apps that take away your attention when you’re feeling restless, or challenged. But the next time that uncomfortability presents itself, start labeling it: is this simply boredom? Then keep going: what am I bored of, and what do I really wish I was actually doing right now? Is this loneliness? Then keep going: who am I really missing, and why do I feel I need their comfort instead of my own? Put a label to the emotion. Acknowledge it for being and presenting itself so that you can deal with it’s consequences and conclusions, and get to work. You will likely (fingers crossed) never be this uninhibited and undistracted again.
Let go of where you think you should be, or what you should have gotten done. Let go of what you’re afraid of, what you think is wrong in this situation and time in history. Let go of what’s stressing you. Take a day to watch nothing but bad TV if you want to. Take an entire evening to talk to an old friend. Wear the same sweat pants four days in a row. Let go of right and wrong for just the time being. Allow time, space, and duty to be malleable and even irrelevant - for now. We are in an unprecedented time individually and globally. Take the time to realize it, indulging when you need to in to admirable proclivities (books, poetry, cooking, making love) as much as simply joyful ones (laughter, rest, relaxation, complete mental abandon). The universe has lovingly asked that we pause and reset. Answer the call.
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Waves