Sol-itude: The Overlooked Power of Being Alone
After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent heavy social restrictions, many have been forced to deal with isolation. It is for us, as social animals, quite an uneasy thing.
In this essay, however, I will go over the mostly overlooked bright side about being alone—the connectedness on the other side of isolation.
The Illusion of Separation
I expressed in my essay Śūnyatā: Nothing Empty About Emptiness that I feel what we most fear today is emptiness. This fear extends to, and perhaps culminates in, the fear of loneliness; of being left alone.
But as was the bottom line of that essay, emptiness is not actually by any means a fatalistic, bad thing—it only appears so because we are viewing it through a partial perception of reality. Once this perception is made holistic with increased awareness, it becomes crystal clear that emptiness is not actually empty; for it is what contains, and renders usable, everything in existence.
Loneliness and being alone can be treated in exactly the same way—not as something to be escaped into noise and forced social interaction, but as something to be deeply embraced with honest acceptance. We seem to have a notion that to accept and surrender to things is akin to being defeated by them, but this is far from truth.
See, as long as you do not accept something, you allow yourself to be bothered by it—and that is actually equal to being, if not defeated by it, at least in a steady losing struggle with it; slowly wearing yourself out, using energy to keep your ego on guard for the phantoms it itself projects into the world. Whereas when you accept the possibility of being left entirely alone, and really come to terms with it, the most magical thing happens:
You begin to realize—or feel—that you are actually never alone. You are very deeply connected to everything else; not only to other humans, but to absolutely everything else in existence as well. Your sensation of separateness, which is the foundation of your sensation of being an ego, shows itself just as the little necessary evil—the creative illusion; maya—that it is; no longer as the seeming law of nature separating you from everyone you love. Let’s go into that next.
An island pointing out from the sea appears, above the water’s surface, to be isolated and alone—but it is in reality the selfsame earth as what is at the bottom of the sea and all over this planet. Trees in a forest appear to be separated from one another, but beneath the surface, their roots deeply embrace and draw nourishment from the same soil.
Precisely in the same way, though we appear to be separated individuals, in reality we are very deeply connected beneath the perceptible surface, drawing sustenance from the same unseen part of reality as all other humans and living beings. We only seem to be separate from everything because we view the world through our two eyes and fixed minds that only see the surfaces.
Think about your fingers. If you focus your eyes only on their tips, cutting out of your conscious attention the hand they stick out of—and forget that you are ignoring the hand—, they will look like they are just lone bags of flesh floating around aimlessly. But if you realize that you are ignoring the hand and the body to which they belong, it becomes absolutely self-explanatory that you are only fooled by an illusion of diverted attention that you yourself make. This is the exact function of the illusion of separation we subject ourselves to, only on a different scale.
But you can only disillusion yourself by taking a few steps back, and letting your mind recognize the whole picture, in the spirit of this Zen saying:
“Awaken the mind by fixing it nowhere.”
This experience of ‘inner transmutation’ earlier described, following the (often very painful) self-examination and acceptance of one’s loneliness, is quite nicely compressed in the following quote:
“There is much evidence to show that for anyone who passes through the barrier of isolation, the sense of individual isolation bursts, almost by dint of its own intensity, into the ‘all-feeling’ of identity with the universe.”
—Alan Watts: Nature, Man and Woman, p. 32
which is is fundamentally another way of expressing what Lao-Tzu expresses in the Taoist masterwork Tao Te Ching:
“Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.”
(chapter 42, translated by S. Mitchell)
The Sol in Solitude
Let’s consider the sun for a moment.
It, like all other stars, is alone.
But it is not ashamed of being alone. It is alone with the most immense glory and power imaginable.
The sun’s solitude is what is fueling the growth of everything on our planet, while illuminating it so that we can see the beauty of everything in it. Being relentlessly itself, bold enough to stand alone as it is, it attracts everything in our solar system to revolve around it and the flowers to bloom towards its splendor, as if expressing their gratitude for it with their beauty.
The sun asks for nothing in return for the life-giving blessings it bestows, for it is content with itself and the burning of its inner truth.
Go through your fear of being alone and you will find yourself capable of shining in the same way. It is not easy—but nothing worth obtaining is ever easy.
It’s not for zero reason that so many creatives and geniuses endorse solitude—for it is only then when they can tap into their inner richness and draw creative inspiration from the unseen source, the collective unconscious, and return with their fresh contribution to the collective reality.
As you have once went through the pain of loneliness, having realized your inherent and unconditional connection to everything, you will carry this sense of connection everywhere you go. You will have tapped into the endless, universal source of energy within you that is also shining the sun.
If you can understand loneliness and go beyond it, then you will find there is no need to escape, no urge to be gratified or entertained, for your mind will know a richness that is incorruptible and cannot be destroyed.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti
My intention here is of course not to try to turn everyone into hermits and recluses. I only point out that there is actually nothing fundamentally to be afraid of in being alone, and for many, it can actually be the most empowering experience to fully accept themselves in their solitude. After all, we will all die alone, getting to carry nothing that we now have onto the other side—which is all the more reason to come to terms with loneliness and emptiness now.
It is one of the few ways to burst through the shell that is limiting you from truly living your life to the fullest, and remembering who you really are. How could you be a true individual if you are unable to stand alone?
Also, just as abstaining from food for a certain time period (fasting) increases one’s appreciation and gratitude for all foods drastically, so does abstaining from social interaction here and then increase one’s appreciation for other human beings immensely.
Thank you for reading this essay. If you enjoyed reading it, feel free to share it—especially to anyone you feel could find solace and inspiration from it during these times.