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Solitude: Why Do We Fear It?

Posted: 11/06/10 03:36 PM ET

What is it about being alone that freaks people out? Why do so many avoid it like the plague? Why do we fear it so much? On the journey of life, no real progress can be made without making the time for reflection. Solitude is essential; It gives us the time and opportunity to explore and know ourselves.

Where can you find silence these days? Almost everywhere you look, something is screaming for your attention. The minute you leave your house, noise begins to fill all the spaces in your day. The clamorous atmosphere of the world exhausts you by the time you get to work, pick up the kids, and start dinner. Your nervous system is shot and even then, we seek more noise.

Is it possible that noise has become soothing? So soothing, in fact, that we can't do without it? I know many who are seekers of noise, at any cost, to avoid the quieter places within. If you want to punish these people, put them in a room by themselves.

To resist or avoid solitude reveals something: due to a chaotic inner life the antidote is more noise. The downside to living in such a manner is lack of meaning and connection. The noise becomes the glue that binds two people, creating a false sense of camaraderie, but all the while, the parties involved sense something is missing and soon part ways.

When we are too busy in the world, filling our days and nights with people, things and places, we lose perspective. Without perspective, we can't see what's really going on. You begin to use the noise of the world to tune out the incessant inner voices that clamor for love and attention. Every mystic from every age and time has repeated the same truth: the soul's voice will be heard only in silence and deep reflection.

When the soul is ready to reveal itself, it will do two things: get rid of the people in your life who are hindering your progress and force you into taking the time to reflect upon your life. In other words, whether you are willing or unwilling, the soul will push you into the realm of solitude to restore balance and ground your energies. Otherwise, feelings of being overwhelmed, or tendencies to overreact to minor annoyances, begin to creep in.

That said, an important distinction needs to be made here. There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. From the outside it may appear the same, but appearances can be deceiving. Loneliness is marked by feelings of isolation and persists even when one is with other people, which is perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone, content with your own company, enjoying the silent places of your soul without feeling lonely, and it can lead to self-awareness.

Socrates, the great Athenian philosopher, hailed, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Self-knowledge is the delicious fruit of solitude. It will enlighten us in ways that no book or teacher or philosophy could, for it involves the intuition and not the intellect.

While we may struggle to attain a healthy balance between the outer and inner life, the more we allow people to crowd our life, the less chance we will have to know ourselves. Solitude is a time for examining our lives, our motives, our longings and our aspirations. It serves our evolution from the inside and out.

The occasional retreat from the world will benefit us; we will come out stronger and clearer. When practiced on regular basis, solitude will help empty out, cleanse, and restore a new sense of faith and trust in life. It is not suggested that we should neglect our outer life for the inner one, but we must turn our attention inward on a regular basis if we wish to live peacefully.

That's why you should not fear or resist your alone time or solitude; instead, use it to your benefit. Use this time to dig a little deeper, to remove obstacles and reconnect. The discipline of solitude and silence is a crucial component in a healthy life. Learn to embrace it.