Einstein said, “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth but delicious in the years of maturity.”
I live there too, these days. It’s new to me, brought on by shifting circumstances and changing times. Over the past few years, I struggled through a period of being increasingly disappointed in others and desperately longing for connection, passion, and fulfillment.
When I finally realized the only way to find that for which I longed was to look to myself, everything started to shift.
It was not easy, especially after living my entire adult life as an extrovert who thrived on the energy and attention of others. But change is sometimes essential, especially when it arrives as a hard lesson discovered through tears and frustration.
Suddenly, one morning hiking alone, because there was no one around to join me – again – I realized how much I enjoyed the solitude.
So, I made it a habit and now regularly head off alone to explore the hills and the recesses of my own mind, wonderfully accessible within the silence. I now enjoy being alone to think, observe, feel, and just be with myself.
The more time I spend alone with my thoughts the more I find answers to the questions and dilemmas that challenge me in my new era of learning to find purpose beyond my career, in a body that is changing in so many unforeseen ways, and relating to relationships that are different than expected.
I have begun to understand I am the one person in my life who is constant, on whom I can count, and with whom I can find contentment.
It wasn’t really a conscious shift, more of a series of “ah-ha” moments that occurred after spending more and more time pursuing what interested me whether or not there was someone else with whom to enjoy it. I have grown into the mature years that Einstein was referring to and it is quite wonderful.
So, what changed? How am I now more fulfilled and happier to be alone instead of struggling with an unrelenting need for companionship? It seems to come down to a few simple realizations.
I focus on what I like to do, what brings me joy, not on the relationship to the person with whom I share it.
I love to hike. But, for years, I would only go when I had a partner, which meant I missed out when others were busy or would cancel last minute.
I started heading out alone instead of cancelling on myself, and I found I enjoyed it even more. I go where I please, at my own pace, and am free to pause in reflection, which brings a deeper satisfaction to my outings.
They are still a strenuous workout but now I have the added benefit of spending time in my own mind without distraction. I now hike alone nearly every morning.
Exploring my own thoughts, listening intently to the voice that serves as my guide through my feelings and emotions, brought rewarding insights. But I needed to be quiet to hear it.
So, in addition to spending time alone hiking and biking, I’ve started doing other creative endeavors that allow my mind to wander. I bought a starter kit of acrylic paints and have enjoyed discovering not only my creativity but the ideas that reveal themselves while my mind is open and unencumbered.
I also write every morning, releasing to paper whatever is on my mind as I awaken to a new day. I have come to understand myself, my desires, and my boundaries much more clearly because of it.
I still enjoy good company and loving relationships with those in my life. But I find I have less tolerance these days for idle chit chat.
Instead, I seek intimate conversation, honest sharing of ideas, and emotions that cut through what’s happening and get to how we feel about what’s happening. It’s a subtle but important distinction.
I’m not seeking a monastic life, rather, one of balance, with time devoted to self and the company of loved ones, and a well-chosen group of friends and acquaintances who contribute to my well-being and happiness.
When I feel the need for companionship, and none of my friends are available, I join a meetup group to go hiking or participate in a writing group. It’s amazing how easily a stranger can become a friend given the right circumstance.
The world can be a chaotic place sometimes, and in order to comfortably settle into solitude, we need to seek out silence and inspiration. Take a chance. Give it a try. Choose something you enjoy and do it alone a few times, just to see how it feels.
Spend some time with yourself, listen to your inner voice, and really hear what it has to say. You might find, as I did, and as Einstein did, that it’s delicious.
How much time do you spend on your own? Do you revel in it or do you try to run from it? What activities can you do on your own? Do you find you enjoy them more? Please join the conversation!