A Lifelong Extrovert Comes To Terms With The Benefits Of Seclusion

To be alone, that is an art. Today I found myself contemplating the last time I was truly alone with my thoughts… Immediately I began an internal debate regarding what being “alone” actually meant. Is being alone going into my room for a few minutes and sitting in the bathroom with a book? I decided that wasn’t really what I was after. Is being alone simply being in a location absent of other people? This example seemed pretty logical to me until I realized all the trouble people manage to get into while surfing alone on Facebook, answering emails, or simply responding to a consistent torrent of text messages from friends and family; that won’t do either. I decided that my definition of alone time would be crafting an environment limited to no other human beings, no computer humming in the corner begging for attention, and absolutely no cell phone… By that definition it has been a long, long time since I have last been “alone.” This worries me…

Quality thinking time.

For the majority of my short life I have been a consistent extrovert. I love people and I thrive off of conversations, jokes, and activities with friends and strangers alike. Being alone was never something I enjoyed. In fact, I used to avoid it at all costs. It was always better to be around distractions while I struggled to understand my overactive imagination and never ending thoughts. Every once in a while my parents would leave town when I was in High School and I dreaded being alone with nothing to do but search for myself within my own mind. So, I guess there are two strong reasons why I have operated as an extrovert for the majority of my life. I love people, and I have struggled to craft peace in my own mind. That is a topic for a different day though…

Anyway, on a recent trip to Taipei I spent five days wandering a city I have grown to love. I was as alone as I have been in a long time, without any social obligations to attend to I was free. A few days before I had booked a tiny single room in a hostel where I could read, write, and think by myself. I could choose to have zero interactions with other people and I loved it. Funnily enough my window also didn’t let in a single ray of light, I even found myself separated from normal circadian rhythms. That part wasn’t exactly ideal, but it sets the scene! I had an ample amount of time to retreat from socially demanding situations and simply think about life; it felt fantastic. I loved every second of my alone time. My world exploded in a technicolor flood of thoughts and ideas that had hid latent for months.

As I traversed the winding alleys of Taipei barely an hour passed without a new thought or idea developing from my surroundings and thoughts. As I began to ponder this sudden current of radical thought I was hit by a powerful realisation; I had been in this moment before… The feeling that I had in my chest was no temporary guest, it was an ordinary resident that had been tucked away as my mental energy had been channeled into social interactions. I thought back to previous periods of my life where I had spent a significant time by myself and I realized that these periods were often followed by spikes in creativity and powerful focus.

I discovered a simple truth during those days in Taipei. My mind is more creative when I remove myself from social stimuli and simply ponder the world around me. Social interaction certainly has had a huge influence on my creative thoughts, but I have found that without an opportunity to reflect on these interactions my life is inherently imbalanced. For years I had believed that the best way to make a positive impact in the world was to push myself wholly into a social environment and contribute to an important cause. Contrary to that belief, my experience in Taipei displayed to me that without personal time to reflect and analyze the fruits of my social interactions critically, I cannot leverage the power of my mind and soul to contribute to a positive cause with my full strength and creativity.

In Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius he writes that he has taken an interest in Hecato of Rhodes’ achievement: “I have begun to be a friend to myself.” Seneca concludes that “Such a person can never be alone. You may be sure that such a man is a friend to all mankind.” If I am to become a friend to myself, and subsequently a better servant leader in society, than I must make time to spend alone. I have seen how beneficial a few days adventuring by myself can be, now I plan to experiment with the concept of true “alone” time. No cell phone, no computer, just a notebook and a pen. I am curious to see how this experiment unfolds…

Throughout next week I will experiment with intentional seclusion. Monday through Friday I will set an easy goal of 30 minutes of “alone” time. When the weekend rolls around I will stretch that time to an hour. I will reflect on these sessions with a journal and relay my thoughts through this blog.

Ross Busch is currently living in Kinmen, Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship. Thoughts and comments on “Cave Talk” do not represent the Fulbright Organization in any form.

Picture Credit one: By AndrewHorne (talk) — Own work (Original text: I (AndrewHorne (talk)) created this work entirely by myself.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15582363

Picture credit two: By I, Calidius, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2456052