Friday, January 30, 2015

how to be alone

I'm reading this book right now called "How To Be Alone" by Sarah Maitland. I picked it up on a whim at the bookstore. It has a beautiful bright blue cover with white lettering, and they had it set up right next to the cash register. I loved that they had it right there, because the title is very provocative. How to be alone. Most people don't like to be alone, and I wondered how many interesting questions were raised in people's minds when they looked at that title. I had a feeling many people were put off or annoyed. I felt an immediate kinship with the book, and impulsively bought it.

Even though I have a partner, and we've been together for over 20 years-- which is ridiculous--and married for 13 of those years, I still think of myself as alone on some level. We all are, of course, ultimately alone, so maybe it's just that, or maybe it's something else. In any case,  that's how I view myself, as an lone independent person. I work by myself, all day every day, and I like it like that. When I do have an assistant, I'm grateful for the help but ultimately annoyed by the intrusion of someone else in my work space. I prefer to work in solitude.

Perhaps the biggest problem with spending so much time alone is what can go on inside my head. The usual tear-down shit of undermining questions, unsolicited critiques, current resentments. But I've gotten really bored with all that. Mostly because I've started questioning the veracity of knowledge the voice in my head really has about anything. Like, I've always thought that voice in my head is me, feeding me thoughts and information that I need, but that's wrong. The voice comes from my consciousness, but it is not necessarily concerned with truth. It's most concerned with just keeping my attention, making itself important, and it mostly does that by trying to freak me out.

But I also think that the voice in my head is a way of trying to entertain myself. And even though I like being alone, maybe I'm not comfortable with just being at peace with myself. It's too boring. No drama. So the storyteller starts up, and I get carried away into a different place. Daydreaming. I've been practicing catching myself at it and trying to bring myself back into the present moment, because it's actually not boring to just be at peace, I'm just not used to it.  Daydreaming is just kind of a bad habit, a habit I developed early on to cope with actual boring situations, like school. And since daydreaming is an expected characteristic of being artistic, I've never questioned the idea that daydreaming is maybe not so good. That being alone in a healthy way perhaps requires also being a part of the present moment, and not your own private one.

While writing this, I googled "how to be alone" and there were all kinds of interesting links. Check it out. And what about you? Where are you at when it comes to being alone?

10 comments:

  1. Ditto... How was the book by the way? I am a potter and although I travel 6 months of the year demonstrating at fairs across the country (very public of all things) I also like shutting myself in my house in New England and hope no one calls or stops by!

    It is just that I have so much to do. I shut off the voice in my head by listening to old movies on my VHS or listening to the radio or books on tape.

    I tend to talk to myself a lot. I take a lot of notes of my thoughts. I try to forget negative things "fair" people say. I get lost in my pots and as the shapes emerge, I forget everything else in my head.

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    1. I have not finished it yet, but I do recommend it, even to those of us who are comfortable being alone.

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    2. Ah yes the voice in one's head, "the thinker", I regard him as the housekeeper. he usually thinks about the day, what is going to happen, tomorrow and such, a whole laundry list of things it does to do "maintenance" on our physical material existence. Pythagoras had a requirement to his students that they had to observe "silence" for 5 years before they could join his school. I talked with someone who went on a retreat for 40 days in which they ate vegetarian, and observed silence. She told me that once you stopped talking (almost like an addiction, you go through withdrawals!) that little voice in your head starts to slow down and stop talking, and become more peaceful then it gives way to something else...the master within. The true you, becomes prevalent.

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  2. Oh, I miss being alone!
    I'm a stay-at-home mother to a two-year-old with another on the way. Over the past 2+ years, I've done odd jobs (barista, farmwork, freelance editing), now the editing looks like it's heading toward a permanent, mostly from-home position, but I miss those long stretches of time with my own thoughts. A chattering toddler leaves little room for thinking.
    I used to use a lot of alone time. For journaling, for writing, for sewing. And my husband is an alone-time guy, too, which worked well for us.

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    1. Every parent I know struggles for that time alone, which is one of the reasons why I always try to appreciate my vast allocations of alone time and not take it for granted.

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  3. I love being alone. Of course I need the companionship, insight, thoughts of friends, however I just don't do very well without some downtime. I'm not productive and I dont process very well without time by myself. I've almost always felt this way and It is so pleasurable that I cant imagine what it would be like to be afraid of such a thing. for me it is as necessary as sleep. I can be harsh on myself and feel lonely but I still feel comfortable just being by myself.

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    1. I could not agree with you more.

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  4. I love being alone. Yes I sometimes give my negative thoughts too much space, but in general I really enjoy the peacefulness. The amount of time I spend alone is extreme, but the other half of my work life is the opposite extreme. Art festivals are a crush of people and interaction. My face hurts from talking all day. I look forward to this, because I get to see a lot of people I know and like. And afterwards I look forward to going back to my private space. It's a good balance.

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    1. I also have that thing of looking forward to shows so I can connect with friends and customers, but I am so exhausted after I can barely function. I don't notice how much energy interacting with people takes until afterward when I can barely figure out how to feed and put myself to bed.

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    2. It depends on the people you interact with, i suppose, some take your energy(vampires) and some give you their energy.

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