Enjoying Being Alone



I've got more companions
When I'm all alone.
Flesh is fetching. ~
Alone, Amorphis
I believe the biggest motivator that drove me to the study of philosophy is that horrible feeling I used to have while lying awake at night looking at the ceiling. My professor, Dr. Eugene Rice has told me once before that everybody is a philosopher but not everyone realizes it. And really, it is true. Those moments in the middle of the day, sitting in my desk in high school, thinking the "thoughts of the universe" as my teacher used to say. Those aren't exclusive to a handful of people. They come to all of us in one form or another.

They come with a rage and relentlessness rarely seen in the world. And the worst part is...they come when we're alone. They come when there is no friend to protect us, when there is no wise teacher to guide us, and when we least want them to. Our own minds are capable of great things, but they are also capable of imprisoning us. There seems to be no limit to how low our own thoughts can take us. I can only imagine the thoughts going through someone's mind on the verge of suicide.

TC Luoma, columnist at T-Nation.com, recently wrote an article on happiness titled the Testosterone Guide to Happiness. TC explains that the buddhist Lama Zopa Rinpoche told a prisoner that "Your prison is nothing in comparison with the inner prison of ordinary people: the prison of attachment, the prison of anger, the prison of depression, the prison of pride." Our own mind can work against us if we let it, if we hold onto things for bad reasons.

TC also goes on to say that

"Social scientists estimate that 70 percent of our happiness comes from our relationships, both their quantity and quality, with friends, family, coworkers, and even neighbors.
Our relationships really do have a profound impact upon the quality of our life but is the time spent alone that seals the deal. When we are alone we begin to second guess ourselves, we begin to re-evaluate our position on this giant piece of rock. This can be both a wonderful and horrible thing. Without questioning ourselves we would never grow, but with the questioning comes the difficult part: owning up to your own thoughts. Sometimes your own thoughts don't match up with your life. You find you hate your job, your spouse, your life. You may push these thoughts down inside and push forward, but they must and will always return if you take no action.

If you never attempt to answer these questions, examine these thoughts, then you will always not enjoy being alone, but enjoying being alone is essential to having a good life. Aristotle believed that the good life was one of contemplation, contemplation of the good. If a man was truly virtuous, Aristotle believed that being alone for him was no problem as he spent his time thinking good thoughts.

But if we ignore our self when we are alone and instead try to substitute time with friends, activities, etc., we find that the self we encounter when we are lying awake at night is a complete stranger. Jean Jacques Rousseau speaks of this "man of the world" thus:

The man of the world is whole in his mask. Almost never being to himself, he is always alien and ill at ease when forced to go back there. What he is, is nothing; what he appears to be is everything for him. ~ Emile
The man who clings to pleasures outside himself, to thoughts outside himself, and to others outside himself, finds that he must depend upon them for his happiness. He must depend upon that which he has no control over. And when the world changes, as it must, he must change with it, or fall victim to his own thoughts, the thoughts that rage against him late at night, when he is alone.

Being alone is not bad, there is an equilibrium to all things. It is when there is a failure to really attempt to know oneself, and instead only hide away, hoping your thoughts leave you be, that a dependence upon everything else arises. The prison is made by our own mind. Don't lock your true self away only to seek false gods when the answer lies where you most fear to tread.

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