“All of humanity’s problems, stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
~ Blaise Pascal.
In today’s hyperconnected world, most of us tend to dread the thought of being alone with ourselves. We find it so hard to let go of technology and other people. In the past, people used to spend time with themselves at least in the mornings- now, we have someone to talk to even in the toilet. No, this is not a rant about how technology is taking over our lives, there are plenty of those already. What I instead want to draw your attention to, dear reader, is solitude.
First, let’s define what we mean by solitude. Sitting alone in a room checking your phone is not solitude, even if you’re reading the news. Solitude is different from being alone. Being alone is when you are with no one else. Solitude is when you are with yourself. It’s a subtle difference, but very important to understand.
But most of us never experience this kind of solitude, we are always talking and listening to people. There are so many voices which we are forced to hear. More often than not, these voices impact our decisions. ‘This guy said this job is amazing, therefore I must pursue it.’ ‘He said this professor’s class is an easy A, so it must be.’ ‘Someone else said it’s hard- what should I do?’ ‘All my friends are dating- why am I single?’ These are all thoughts which go through people’s minds. But notice one thing. They are all results of other people’s thoughts. Furthermore, people also keep providing us with unsolicited remarks of what they think of us- Someone who needs your help that day may tell you that you’re really smart. The next person may say you’re a nutcase. A salesman says you look pretty, your gym trainer says you’re really fat. This keeps happening on a daily basis. Our minds keep accumulating these often contradictory statements. That is why we find ourselves unsure of who we truly are. If there is so much noise outside from so many voices, how will we hear our inner voice?
Even the decisions we make often tend to be the results of other people’s thinking and not our own. The image we have of ourselves tends to get shaped by what other people say about us. And this keeps changing, because people are fickle, and their remarks keep changing. It’s like looking at different kinds of mirrors – none of which show you who you really are. Our true self gets enshrouded in the accumulation of all the external noise, our inner voice gets buried deep within. We must break away from all of that, even if for a little while, in order to get to know who we are. In the silence that comes with solitude, we will be able to look within and hear our inner voice. That, dear reader, is why solitude is important.
But to be in solitude is difficult. We will have to know ourselves in our nudity. We have to ask uncomfortable questions. We have to dig deep into ourselves. That is why we often start doing something when we find ourselves alone. We shy away from asking who we really are. We don’t want to go down the unexplored road. We want to keep believing in this version of ourselves which has been created by the labels of society. It has become our identity- and we do not want to strip it down. But we must. For only then will we uncover our soul. Only then will we see the real person inside us. Only then will we hear our own voices and not of the demons that have been fabricated by our minds as a result of what others have told us.
Ruth Krauss, the famous American writer, wrote “Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.” To be in solitude, disconnect from everything and everyone, sit down, and listen. Listen to the internal noise- thoughts of the past, the future, things you had to get done, emails to be responded to, and all else. Listen to these thoughts and let them pass like clouds over a mountain. Eventually, you will find your peace, and you will be able to see the real color of the stream that flows within, and hear the voices of your soul.
By: Manan Hora
*Title inspired by William Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’
Manan is a student at the University of Rochester. He has been the founder of a startup aimed at connecting nonprofits and volunteers. He has varied interests- right from creative writing and theatre to making websites and going to hackathons.
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