Originally published 12/27/2016
Growing up, I was what you would classify as classic extrovert. When people told me they enjoyed being alone, I would joke that the time it took me to drive to and from school was enough alone time for me. I thrived on being around people and felt energized by their presence, especially in large groups.
As an adult, in contrast, I have shifted drastically on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. I tell most people I’m an ambivert, but even when I’m around people, I no longer enjoy the large crowds or chaos of big events. I can tolerate those settings, sure, but in small doses, and I definitely feel drained after. I thrive most in 1:1 or very small group settings where connection can be most meaningful. Talk of the weather or the latest sporting event doesn’t interest me much, as I’d much prefer to dig into thoughts and emotions to understand people at their core. This shift has happened over many years, and I know it has everything to do with the fact that I learned how to enjoy being alone.
In my opinion, being alone is a first step toward cultivating mindfulness. When I say alone, I don’t mean lying on the couch binge watching Netflix for 10 hours (although there is a time and a place for this as well). Taking a walk in nature is my preferred way to disconnect and turn inward. Being alone offers an opportunity to take a look inside you and think critically about how you’re feeling and thinking and why. I learned that when I’m alone, I can distill all the information that is constantly flooding my attention and decide what’s important to me. Taking a break from media consumption gives my mind and body time to digest, reflect, and create. Through this reflection, I learn what is most important to me and where I stand on particular issues, rather than parroting what others tell me or believing in something to win favor or acceptance with others.
I’ve learned to cultivate not only mindfulness through solitude, but also confidence. I am more independent and self-reliant. And it turns out, when I decided to start turning off the constant messaging from companies trying to sell me shit because my skin isn’t good enough, or my body isn’t thin enough, I learned that I actually really like myself. There will always be parts of myself that I want to work on and improve because life is a journey, but learning to do this from a place of acceptance and self-love has been priceless. When I’m alone in the woods, I don’t need external validation. I begin to create, rather than only consume. I can listen to the little voice inside me and what it has to say about my unique value in this world.
Being alone is indeed an art form. It is subjective, and not everyone thrives on the same type of solitude. Your preferred method of disconnecting may change with your mood or stage in life. Everything is an evolution. But learning to unplug and get away from the constant distractions of life, or The Noise as my friend Sean calls it, offers immense possibility. You can start small, with a walk in the park or turning off your phone for an hour to meditate or simply sit still and contemplate life. By learning to enjoy your own company and turn inward, you can discover and rediscover yourself regularly. Being alone is beautiful.