This post is by one of our dear friend and clinical psychologist Pradnya Mane . Her work on depression, childhood trauma and holistic approach to psychological issues is absolutely noteworthy
Apart from hospital settings, I also work with few MNCs as psychotherapist. Last week, I got an opportunity to address a group of experienced GMs and ROs of a company. After discussing about clinical aspects of anxieties of unknown and fear of uncertainty, we spoke about how to deal with issues one by one, planning and execution, means- end analysis, smaller reachable goals and most importantly breathing!
One experienced gentleman exclaimed that success and anxiety are corelated. I gave everyone a task. I asked them to think of a word that comes to them when they hear word 'Success'. Some of the generated words were Career, Dream, Balance, Money, Amitabh Bachchan, Authority, Growth, Tesla, Power, Prestige, Ratan Tata, Apple, Achievement. Out of 31, most of the answers were related to Career and increment. I again questioned If they feel they are successful in their life! Now, most of them were not quite sure about what to answer. (All are doing great monetarily!!) Now, some started speaking about daily stress, relationship issues, family disharmony, mental fatigue, sleeplessness, and anxieties. So very clearly, that was stopping them from calling themselves successful despite having money and quite a good position!
Unfortunately, our culture has convinced us to believe that we must do or achieve something extraordinary to feel joy and that is big fat lie. The truth is real joy is hidden in small things. Inner peace and contentment is real success. At this point, I had to tell them about practicing Solitude!
I was raised in the joint family with 22 cousins, uncles- aunts and a grandmother. During my childhood, I never got the idea of being alone. Being the youngest child in the family, I got more than enough attention and pampering. My idea of family was never restricted to nuclear pattern of families. My family was my strength and my weakness at same time. Almost all adults in the family were teachers. So, books became my companions from my childhood. I, alike many of my cousins, I used to spend some time in reading everyday. That was my introduction to Solitude.
Solitude is a quieter place and quieter state of our mind. It is simply being with self and reflecting about our day, contemplating about the decision that we made or listen to what our internal voice has to say. Nowadays, we generally indulge in 'solitude' to escape from our stressors and toxic work situations. We can find solitude in private rooms, while bathing, during meditation, a walk on a seashore, sitting on a bench in a park, under the night sky, on a trek to a hill... Solitude is very important to live a healthy life physically and mentally.
A myriad of people confuse solitude with Loneliness. Though both the terms consist of solitariness, the major difference between these two terms is about attitude. Solitude is romantically positive state of being alone but not lonely. Because you are in company with your own self. You are more aware about your emotions, your feelings, in touch with your experiences, your thoughts. For example, when I am reading, I am having a good time with myself, reading about someone, something, pondering upon some thought, visiting- revisiting some wisdom related to the topic. Just like we keep our phone aside when we are charging it, solitude indeed helps us to recharge our energies. It helps us declutter our mind, organize our derailed thoughts and listen to our inner self.
However, loneliness is purely negative in nature. When we find a void in life, a wistful need of someone who is not present e.g., a former lover or a best friend, a parent. It is need for human contact and psycho-social interaction. Loneliness is a sense of despair due to social isolation. The elderly person or someone who has lost a spouse experience this pain of loneliness. Anyone for that matter, who is disconnected from family, friends, work, or life in general can be lonely. Clinically, it may possibly be a reason for excessive anxiety and depressive symptoms.
As a psychologist, I affirm the Balance that we need to find in such situations. Humans have long stigmatized solitude. It has been considered an inconvenience, something to avoid, a punishment, a realm of loners. I see lot of cases where a person is going through depression or anxiety disorders and at such times, they really need love, respect, and support from fellow humans. We are humans, who are connected to each other via feelings, emotions, and empathy. We play, we go out for lunch, we arrange family get togethers, we marry just to have human contact in life. Too much loneliness is unhealthy. It drains the body of energy, depletes the mind of optimism, takes the air out of high spirit, leaves a person yearning for human contact. It can lead to depression–even suicide. Yet, time alone is an essential human need for living the balanced life. We need time for ourselves to escape from stress, to relax, to regain our enthusiasm and to live contented life.
We all are by-product of context. Context of our social, political, emotional, economical environment shapes us from childhood. As sociologist Jack Fong rightly explains, “When people are experiencing crisis it’s not always just about you: It’s about how you are in society.” So, when we take out these moments to explore solitude, we are not only forced to confront who we are but also, we learn about how to outmaneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds us in social settings.
In other words, when people remove themselves from the social context of their lives, they are better able to see how they are shaped by that context. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, and writer aptly quotes “We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our bosom.”
This self-reconfiguration happens during 'existentializing moments'. These are mental flickers of clarity which occur during inward focusing time! It is kind of personal epiphany. When you have these moments, do not fight it. Accept it for what it is. Let it emerge calmly and truthfully and do not resist it. Your alone time should not be something that you are afraid of. Positive solitude requires internal exploration that leads to internal discovery. It is your best relationship, the relationship that you have with yourself.
Solitude was indeed a part of all oldest civilizations. Be it Egyptian culture, Indus valley civilization or Roman civilization, there are evidence of solitude as means to attain ultimate wisdom. In everyday life, even when, we are not looking for the ultimate wisdom... there are more practical benefits of solitude.
- Solitude makes us more empathetic: Spending time alone increases our compassion for others as we are more aware and mindful about facts and actual emotions. We are at distance from any competitive attitude and that makes us more grateful about things that we have.
- Solitude makes us more creative and productive: Have you heard a story of genius mathematician Archimedes who found Archimedes principle while having a bath? We all remember the word "Eureka!" and it is a power of solitude.
Think of any genius artist, writer, musician from Picasso to AR Rahman... Their abilities are more enhanced in their productive solitude.
Most of the writers go in their private cabins or studios or any other private place to write.
- Solitude helps us to build mental strength: When you deliberately spend time with yourself you tend to be more relaxed and this solace is empowering to you. Studies show that more me-time is linked with better learning, better problem solving and decision-making skills as well as stress management.
Children who see their elders spending time with themselves constructively, tend to practice solitude from the beginning. That helps them to be more patient, more empathetic, more creative, and emotionally stable.
Honestly, we really crave for control in our life. We want things to happen our way. There is nothing wrong in wanting that. However, control is an illusion. This COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that lesson hard way. So, when we know we can not change the external world, we can attempt to change our internal world by indulging in solitude... Contemplating... Meditating... Finding balance! In the world where everyone is counting their bank balance, lbs., and calories; be a rebel and count your blessings.
This reminds me of a story my Yoga Guru once told me. Once upon a time… There was a king. He was a lover of aesthetics. He ordered best painters in his kingdom to paint a painting depicting peace, solitude, and balance. Several artists submitted beautiful paintings of serene landscapes, people in meditation and so on. One painting, however, confused him... As it showed chaos, turbulent winds, trees n branches swaying, a river overflowing etc. The king summoned the artist and wanted to know why he has depicted all this chaos?
The artist entered in King's palace and pointed out one tree in the painting... one branch and behind, from the painted foliage was peeking a bird, sitting in her nest, and warming her eggs. The king was overwhelmed. He realized that one needs to experience peace, solitude, balance amidst the noise!
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