“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Into bed I went, it was another regular night. That was up until my heart started beating faster than a cheetah, I started sweating and opened my eyes to a pitch-black ceiling. “What happens when you die?” I asked myself. Quickly trying to calm myself down, I concluded that death was darkness, forever. That did far from calm me down, though the little voice in my head asked another question, “What’s the point of all this, if it’s just darkness forever”? My solitude often brought forth questions that made me think long and hard, often leading me down a deeper hole of momentary despair.
Loneliness is a feeling that many people in this room will feel at times in their lives. Breakups, the loss of a loved one or moving to a new location are all events that prompt the feeling. Despite its prevalence, however, loneliness is often stigmatized and dismissed as a personal failing. Society says that as individuals, we should be surrounded by family and friends to make us feel, not lonely. My experience, however, is that even though I surrounded myself with friends and family, I would feel lonely from time to time. I struggled with deciphering the fact that loneliness is an emotional state, rather than a physical one, thus causing me to think that if I was good at something I could have more friends, which would make me feel not lonely.
I needed to learn to be lonely before surrounding myself with friends and family, so I wouldn’t feel misplaced in a social setting or group. It is important to acknowledge that the feeling of loneliness is not a flaw. At a certain time in my life, I felt ashamed to admit that I was lonely, as I understood loneliness was something that happened to people who were “friendless.” It took me a long time to learn that there is meaning in my solitude.
“I was ashamed of myself when I realized that life was a costume party, and I attended with my real face.” – Franz Kafka
That was up until I learned that loneliness and the state of being alone had upsides to it. The biggest upside to loneliness is the fact that you aren’t around others, therefore you can do things free of judgment and that make you truly happy, even if it’s different from others. You’re alone so there is no downside to doing what makes you happy.
But being physically alone can lead to negative thought patterns and quite literally ruin the way an individual thinks about themselves. Physical health is also often neglected when an individual is in the state of loneliness, so by exercising, meditating or doing something that mentally frees you, a resilience to negative thought patterns can be built up that one may experience during loneliness.
It is important to remember that loneliness is not a permanent state and that its okay to enjoy being alone, but humans need to have social interactions with other humans. Being on campus with a small student body allows people to easily interact with each other here. In my experience, I feared being alone all the time, which is why I felt solitude, even in social settings. So, by embracing solitude before seeking out others, I wouldn’t end up feeling a detachment. I sought relationships with shared interests and values, ultimately creating a sense of belonging for myself.
Loneliness is a natural part of the human experience, and it can teach us a great deal about the world and ourselves. Embracing solitude, developing self care practices and building meaningful connections allows an individual to embrace loneliness and stay authentic to themselves.