How to Be Alone

Seclusion has become mandatory. The California governor has issued a statewide order to stay home until further notice to alleviate the spread of the corona virus.

I think most of us are worried about what social distancing will do to our mental health. We don't like being alone. Especially during times of uncertainty and loss. Many will lose jobs, financial security, and potentially loved ones. These are problems that are difficult to face with the support of friends and family, let alone in seclusion.

It seems likely that anxiety and depression will rise among the US and the world. But I do think there can be silver linings to alone time. For me, most of my personal progress has come during periods of ample seclusion. But there's a balance. And I've no doubt felt the pain that comes with too much and misused alone time.

The Downsides of Seclusion

Loneliness is painful. A 2008 study suggested that loneliness can be as painful as a physical attack. The punchline being that loneliness sucks. But being alone doesn't always bring loneliness.

I think there's a cultural bias against being alone that makes things hard. With the corona virus, many of us are forced to be alone. So maybe the stigma doesn't apply here, but stigma aside, being alone can still be painful. Many of us are used to being around people. And while we can still feel lonely within a crowd, we might not be used to being alone with our thoughts.

When alone, our thoughts and emotions that arise for us to be noticed. When engaged with friends and loved ones, the internal noise seems to rest. Or at least we're distracted enough that we don't notice it. I think this is why the common reaction when faced with alone time is to consume our attention with Netflix, Instagram, Fortnite, Reddit, booze or whatever our fix may be.

Being alone can be like taking the blinders off. And we may not like what we see.

The Upsides of Seclusion

I worry that most of us default to distraction and numbing. Being alone with thoughts can be scary. But I think the fact that it's scary is something to be leaned into.

Discomfort is an alarm bell that there's something to go towards not away from.

Without seclusion, it's hard to notice the alarm that something's wrong. And without the proper framing and practice, it's impossible to not see loneliness and discomfort as something to be avoided at all costs.

Being alone is an opportunity to direct our attention wisely. And with wise attention, we have the capacity to alleviate any suffering that may arise.

Meditation is the clearest path for finding freedom from suffering that I know of. And I've walked many paths (although I've heard great things about heroin). Jokes aside, I don't shout from this soapbox lightly. Meditation is the single most important thing I've ever learned.

While I'm still a beginner, I meditate often in excess of two hours daily. I am obsessive (probably to a fault) about how I spend my time. I would not be wasting it by sitting in silence for hours upon hours if I did not think it to be valuable.

I've been bound by anxiety, depression, and loneliness for most of my life. That's begun to change despite spending most of my time alone. While there are many factors at play, nothing has alleviated my suffering more than meditation.

No one doubts that training your body with exercise is good for you. Why not train your mind?

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Not all meditations practices are equal. I've tried a few practices and apps, and I think there's no better place to start than with the Waking Up App by Sam Harris.

You can use the meditation app for free for one-month when you use this link.

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