Alone or Lonely?

Many people when they wake have such a fear of, or antipathy to silence that they need to fill the space around them with sound. On goes the radio, TV or MP3 player, the day has begun. I am not suggesting that we should not listen to things though it might benefit us to look at what we are doing and why?

I have met many people who hate the feeling of aloneness. When I dig into this it is often based in fear. In the last blog I was talking about the two different forms of anxiety either based in worry or fear. Often, when we need to fill the space around us with sound we are avoiding the anxiety of fear.

Ok, so nothing wrong with enjoying listening to things. For me it is audio books, I love a good story read by a good storyteller. I am thinking more about where there is something turned on making a noise in every room because there is a perceived feeling of unwanted emptiness if the room is in silence. The fear is often what will we hear or be aware of if we listen to the silence, if there is no noise or distraction. In psycho-speak we might consider this way of repressing unwanted memories or thoughts. If the mind is busy and filled with stuff we avoid feeling or we can’t think.

How do you feel about being in silence?
On meditation intensives you live in absolute or ‘noble silence’ for the entire course that may be seven, ten or thirty plus days. In the silence, when all outside stimulus has ceased all that can be heard are the inner machinations of your emotions and mind, your thoughts, memories and feelings. Sometimes this is difficult as the memories may be hard to deal with and may involve unresolved hurt, loss or bereavement that needs to be faced processed and let go of. I should also point out that there are also many happy and positive memories that come back to say hello as well, it is not all tough stuff.

I have a friend who, like me, experienced abuse as a child yet our experience of being alone is exactly opposite. For her there is a fear of being alone in a silent space. She always needs the door to be open and for other people to be around or for there to be sound. For me it is the reverse, when there is silence and the door is shut I am safe and secure. For me aloneness and silence are something good that I enjoy. When I go out running my favourite time is 5am in the dark dressed in black with no headphones. The world is silent, no one is around and in black I am pretty invisible. Aloneness feels great.

How do you feel about being alone?
Do you like your own company or if you are alone do you seek out the company of others? Being alone and being lonely are different. You can be lonely within a group of people.

Human beings are social animals. We are designed to live in mutually supportive groups as families, tribes, villages, societies and so on. Yet when we become too busy, or fill our time with too much stuff it is easy to forget who we are and to stop attending to our own needs.

Life is the thing that passes us by while we are busy filling our time with stuff

I see people who, at a certain point in life experience fundamental changes. The kids have grown up and left to live their own lives, sometimes they have moved to other places or countries. As the last child leaves home the house becomes quieter. Then along comes retirement and unless we have a strong social network the world becomes quieter again. When our partner passes then we have a sense of silent aloneness, often for the first time in our lives. Many people have spoken to me about their feelings of aloneness as this time in their lives.

Of course, when we lived in extended families this didn’t happen as there were many generations living together from great grandparents to great grandchildren and aloneness didn’t really happen. These days we confine older people to a retirement or residential home where they are thrown in with a bunch of strangers they may or may not be to their liking, this can be a very lonely place to be.

There is nowhere as lonely as a crowd
For most people aloneness has to be faced at some point in life. Those people who have practiced mindfulness and have become accustomed to the silence of their inner mind find it the least threatening or even enjoyable. Perhaps now might be a good time to get practising some mindfulness.

I am reminded of a primary school teacher who had an unruly class and needed to create someway of quieting the children when they were getting out of hand. We developed the exercise of being a tree. When she blew a whistle they all had to stop and stand with their eyes closed, legs planted in the ground and relax from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes and then spend a minute being a tree before she blew the whistle gain. One of the children asked a strange question, “What is that sound that I can here when we become trees?” It took a bit of working out but in the end we got there. The sound that she was hearing was silence it was just that she had never heard it before. She lived in one of those houses where she awoke to noise and went to sleep to noise. Silence was a new sound to her, a new experience.

If you have never experienced being alone or being in silence try it. You might enjoy it.

Take care

Sean X

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