The Art Of Being Alone

So here we are, being asked by the government to isolate ourselves in the hope of stopping the spread of a virus. It’s a good idea, in fact it’s the only recourse we have. Science has yet to discover a means of fighting a virus otherwise. We have antibiotics that kill bacterial infections but nothing that kills a virus. Unfortunately for many, being alone is hard to do. Not only that, but loneliness can be bad for you. This, from Psychology Today:

“Feelings of isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health. Loneliness can be a risk factor for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, among other critical diseases. Lonely people are also twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
At the root, isolation compromises immunity, increases the production of stress hormones, and is harmful to sleep. All of this feeds chronic inflammation, which lowers immunity to the degree that lonely people even suffer more from the common cold. Loneliness can be a chronic stress condition that ages the body and causes damage to overall well-being.”

As a child, I spent a good deal of time alone. I had friends, in fact I grew up in a whole neighborhood full of kids. We ran around every day playing in the parks and streets of my town. But I also enjoyed being alone. I could entertain myself for hours playing with toys and riding my bike, making art, reading or whatever. I had a vivid imagination. Since my wife died in 2017 I have lived alone and I don’t have any problem with it. In fact I don’t feel like I’d ever like to live with anyone again. It seems however, that this is not normal. Most people crave the company of others. They like to be going, they like to be doing. I’ve often wondered why this is. I don’t understand the need to be surrounded by other people, the need to socialize. If I choose to socialize, that’s fine, but I don’t need to.

I’ve done a bit of study on this and while I haven’t kept organized notes of sources I have found a common thread among psychologists as to why people don’t like to be alone. Many people are not comfortable with themselves. So to surround yourself with others, to always be busy concentrating on other people keeps you from thinking too much about yourself. It keeps you from having to look too deeply into your own mind. For some, it’s a scary, dark place.

The ego has a lot to do with this. We tell ourselves we should be different, better, or other than we are. We don’t measure up to our own standards and this makes us unhappy. If we think too much about it we become more unhappy and so surrounding ourselves with others keeps us from thinking about it. It keeps our minds busy. When we’re isolated those thoughts of unworthiness creep back in and we become depressed. We often judge ourselves by the standards of others or of society. Maybe we think that other people’s happiness will rub off on us if we surround ourselves with them. Whatever the reasons are for the need to constantly be around others, I don’t think it’s very healthy.

I practice meditation and I can tell you, if you ever want to take a close look at your own mind, meditation is the way to do it. You will discover all kinds of things in there that you weren’t aware of. This can be kind of scary. It makes you realize that maybe not every thing is so perfect, that maybe you aren’t living up to your own standards. But it’s also an opportunity to make changes, to see yourself in a new light, one that tells you that you aren’t perfect and that’s okay. It is okay to be less than perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. The point is to accept that idea and build on it. Make the changes necessary to become a better person, to stop judging yourself based on what other people think or what you believe society requires. Spending time alone helps you to discover these things.

So I recommend using this self isolation time to get to know yourself better. Take a look under the stairs of your mind, where all the cobwebs are. Shine a light in there and clean it out. Make friends with yourself. You might like you, just the way you are.


  1. Thanks for this. I was surprised to find that once I decided to go on stay-at-home mode I felt a great sense of relief. That was not just the idea that I would now be safe, but it was a welcoming of calm. Even though my five regular events every week are things I love, and there are other good things I participate in less regularly, I really felt so happy to not have to go anywhere, do anything except keep things going at home and do whatever I felt like. I have projects to last a long time and I’m keeping in touch with my family and friends more than usual. I do know that I need to get yoga/meditation into every week and have yet to do more than talk about it. Thanks!

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  2. Wisdom as usual, from Butch. The pandemic might leave us with some lasting benefits. But I would also point out that there are far far more Americans living “alone” now than anytime or anyplace in world history. I also would call attention to the people nowadays who live alone, but who have the TV or radio on, constantly.

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