It has been said, “We come into this world alone, and we leave it alone.”
In between these two huge events, we have many interpersonal connections — family, friends, associates through work and play — but in the end, we are all alone.
Many do not feel comfortable being alone, preferring to fill their world with people (or pets) or with constant social activities. For them, sometimes referred to as extroverts, they find pleasure in their connection to others, while spending a lot of time all alone is to be avoided, except when absolutely necessary. The more extreme extrovert has been seen as “a social butterfly,” flitting from one social engagement to another, not stopping to look backward or inward.
Fearing aloneness can be the leading reason why friends or marriages stay together, even when it would be a healthier choice to part ways. Often the excuse given for staying in an abusive or toxic relationship is, “Well, it’s better than being on my own, alone.”
On the other hand, there are those, sometimes known as “loners,” who like to be alone, mostly preferring their own company rather than having a wide circle of people around them. Loners have been characterized as the outsiders or seen as aloof. We think of the “lone wolf” who travels solo, rather than moving in a pack. The extreme introvert may be a hermit, isolating themselves from others.
Loners may, or may not, feel lonely; extroverts (even when surrounded by others) may, or may not, feel lonely. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. But, in this culture, having a sense of loneliness — and the sadness associated with it — is of epidemic proportions across all age groups. With the growing opioid addictions and the rise in suicides, at the core is often a deep sense of loneliness, rejection and abandonment.
And, for baby boomers and those beyond, there are some good reasons why we may experience a greater sense of loneliness. With work life winding down or ended, we lose many of our regular day-to-day connections. As we age, we may become more socially isolated because of health or economic reasons or because some of those we know and love have relocated or “passed on.”
It is important to notice when we are too isolated, if only to prolong our lives. The research indicates that staying socially connected is of utmost importance for longevity, while social isolation increases the risk and the progression of cognitive decline.
For those who have a strong religious and/or spiritual foundation, feeling isolated and lonely may not be as big a factor because they always feel connected to God, Jesus, Buddha or their Guru (however each sees it), and they are comforted with the understanding they are not truly alone.
Especially as we move into the elder years, it is beneficial to embrace, rather than reject, more times of aloneness for these reasons:
You are better able to follow your own rhythm, come and go as you please. You are the only one you have to please.
With a more solitary lifestyle, you can better explore your own feelings and your thoughts, your dreams, your life’s purpose.
There is more time to do what you want, more time to study and learn something new, continuing to grow and further develop, to explore your creativity, all without a lot of interruptions from the outside.
Living with silence is good for your health. In one study published in the journal Brain Structure & Function, the experiment used different types of noise and silence on mice, monitoring the effects of sound and silence on their brains. When the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day, they developed new cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.
Yet, there is a downside to having too much alone time. It can lead to becoming reclusive, withdrawing from the world, cutting off regular human contact, and thereby losing the ability to easily communicate with others and eventually losing a healthy perspective of reality.
As with all things, balance is the key, while feeling grateful both for the time spent together with others and the time spent with ourselves, alone.
Angelena Craig teaches slow-flow yoga and chair yoga and organizes yoga retreats to Negril, Jamaica. Contact her through www.anewagingmovement.com.