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If you want to find yourself it helps to lose yourself.

Meaningful time spent alone is as essential to our wellbeing. Current wisdom seems to assume that as social beings we can only thrive if we have vibrant social bonds. If we are to feel complete we must constantly interact; without companionship, even for a moment, we’ll wither and fade. We are surrounded by images and messages which tell us that interpersonal relationships are the source of human happiness.

Solitude and the self

It wasn’t always so. Solitude was once accepted as part of living, and an absolute necessity for creativity, balance and spiritual wellbeing. The need hasn’t gone away, but in an age where social interaction and connectedness are for many people synonymous with identity, respect for solitude has.

Satisfying and mutually beneficial relationships may be the foundation of any social group, but equally important is the ability to function well alone, to be at one with ourselves and enjoy our own company. It allows us to reach parts of ourselves that we won’t find if we are always connected and busy.

Being alone does not mean being lonely, and we can experience loneliness when in company. We generally don’t choose loneliness and it can be painful. Solitude, on the other hand, is usually a choice and the experience can be one of joy and deep satisfaction. it also seems that the capacity to be alone and content with it acts as a necessary tonic in our oh-so-busy lives.

Withdraw and refresh

Solitude is more about a state of mind than geographical location, so there is no need to hide away or withdraw. To find it we don’t need grand gestures or exotic locations. We just need a little time and space to experience ourselves in a new way.

People often tell me they have no time to be alone, or that they feel guilty if they take time for themselves. If I respond, I usually say something about how time alone allows us to recharge our batteries; once restored we can give ourselves more fully to others, and to our endeavours. Albert Maslov said that when we find solitude “We become much more free of other people, which in turn means we become much more ourselves, our real selves, our authentic selves, our real identity”.

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