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Alone but not lonely: how to fall in love with solitude

By Michal Spiegelman

Though years of practicing Reiki and meditation have taught me to spend quiet time with myself, anticipating my first ever 7-day silent meditation retreat sent my anxiety through the roof. I was certain I would be so lonely I wouldn’t be able to stand it. I could even imagine myself leaving the retreat before it ended.

One is not alone at a silent retreat. But not speaking at all for a week—not even to your roommate—can feel so lonely. At every silent retreat I have ever attended, I have had extremely difficult moments. But I always conclude the experience genuinely feeling fully connected, insightful, and at peace.

When the pandemic started, we all knew that staying at home was the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19. But for many of us, staying at home led to deep feelings of loneliness and sometimes depression. We craved human touch and closeness with others. Some people used the forced pause to go within and be in solitude. Others felt overwhelmingly lonely and did not enjoy the perfect opportunity for being in solitude.

Why solitude and loneliness are not the same

You can choose solitude—to feel content while being alone. But loneliness is painful; you suffer from loneliness.

If you are an empath, you probably crave solitude. (Not sure if you’re an empath? This blog might help you.) But you are also probably more likely to feel lonely and hurt because of your sensitivity, especially if you have narcissists around you.

You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.

When we became empty-nesters, my husband and I chose to start a new adventure by moving to New York. We were both very excited about the move, but, though my husband was happy from our first day in New York, I was not. Despite living in one of the most exciting, densely populated cities in the world, I was lonely. It took a year for me to create new connections and find communities where I fit in before I started to feel better. Looking back at your journey, whether in work, in your relationships, or with your local community, can you relate to being surrounded by people and still feeling lonely?

You can be alone, with almost no human contact, and still feel connected.

I once read about a lighthouse keeper in British Columbia, Canada, who lived with his wife and their cat nearly 20 miles from the nearest town. With no roads connecting them to civilization, they spent most of their time in solitude. Even groceries were delivered by helicopter once a month. Can you imagine? The cool thing is that they did not feel alone. They did not see their physical isolation as loneliness but enjoyed their lives and felt fulfilled by and content with the virtual connections they had made with different communities.

It’s less about the circumstances and more about how you relate to them.

Once you accept that spending time alone can be restorative and rejuvenating, you can choose solitude over loneliness. Check in with your current beliefs around being alone. Can you challenge yourself to fall in love with solitude?

Below are statements describing why empaths like spending time alone.

Which one of the statements below can you relate to?

“When I spend time alone, I do so because…” 

  1. It allows me to charge my internal batteries.
  2. It helps me balance my sensitivity to overstimulation.
  3. It sparks my creativity.  
  4. I can better connect with my intuition and inner wisdom.
  5. Being alone helps me deepen my spirituality.
  6. I become mindful of my emotions, and I feel lighter.
  7. I can spend time doing what I love.
  8. I can be myself.
  9. I dare to rest.
  10. I clear my head and see things in perspective.

How to fall in love with solitude

Remind yourself that loneliness and solitude are not the same. Bring curiosity into the process of learning to love spending time with yourself.

Create a solitude list and use it regularly.

Here is my personal solitude list. My favorite activities are at the top:

  • Placing my hands on my energy centers and tapping into the universal energy. It’s called Reiki.
  • Meditating
  • Moving intentionally, especially Qigong. (My favorite teacher is Steven Washington.)
  • Walking in nature. I do it every day. (I’m lucky to live a few minutes away a large, beautiful park.)
  • Art making. Especially watercolors. (The online courses of my hero-artist, Tracy Verdugo, have been a life-saver throughout the pandemic.)
  • Listening to songs that touch my heart while pausing and breathing. (My two favorite songs are “Glorious” by David Archuleta and “Surrender” by Celine Dion.)
  • Journaling
  • Dancing with music by myself
  • Taking a quiet, relaxing bath with candle lighting
  • Curling up in bed with a good novel
  • Having a nice cup of tea while doing nothing
  • Sitting still and focusing on my breath as it comes in and goes out
  • Standing grounded with one hand on my heart and one on my lower abdomen and breathing

Finding strength, rather than weakness, in solitude is always a choice that we have.

What’s at the top of your personal solitude list?

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