Isolated. Alone. Disconnected.
Do these words scare you?
They used to scare me.
Isolation challenges you. Recall this passage from John Vailliant’s The Tiger:
“ “The most terrifying and important test for a human being is to be in absolute isolation,” he explained. “A human being is a very social creature, and ninety percent of what he does is done only because other people are watching. Alone, with no witnesses, he starts to learn about himself—who is he really? Sometimes, this brings staggering discoveries. Because nobody’s watching, you can easily become an animal: it is not necessary to shave, or to wash, or to keep your winter quarters clean—you can live in shit and no one will see. You can shoot tigers or choose not to shoot. You can run in fear and nobody will know. You have to have something—some force, which allows and helps you to survive without witnesses.”
For the last two years I’ve had a lot of time. Time when no one else was around. Time when my friends were working, when Molly wasn’t here, when I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted.
I’ve had the time and space to think. To read. To explore. To experiment. To decide.
Think of your mind as a raging sea. Now think of a perfectly still pond with not even a ripple on the surface. If a fish breaks the surface, in which will it be easier to detect?
Aloneness, disconnection, detachment from the cacophony of regular life, even if momentary, allows our minds to be more like a still pond than a raging sea. To see what rises to the surface.
There’s this clip of Louis CK where he talks about people’s fear of being alone. How we use phones and laptops and music and televisions to run away from what we’re feeling.
I think he’s onto something. We, me included, find it difficult just to sit, just to be, to not distract ourselves, to not read or listen or watch.
But when you start practising that skill of being alone, of being un-distracted and unconnected, something happens.
You gain perspective. You see your real self. Your true intentions. You get a glimpse of what you’ve been trying to tell yourself but refused to hear.
That’s why detachment is valuable.
But it cannot last forever. At some point you must re-enter everyday existence. You don’t benefit yourself or anyone else by living as a hermit, caught up in your own thoughts.
You must transition from inward-facing to outward-facing.
In my case, I’ve spent the last two years with my head in books, my thoughts racing, with quiet and time to deconstruct and figure out my problems. That time is coming to an end.
A change is coming.
It’s part of the reason why I started writing. As a way to communicate, to connect. It’s why my email is prominently displayed. It’s why I spend time on Quora. It’s why over the next few years, I’ll be reaching out to more people, both virtually and in-person.
The last few years were about me. My problems. My issues. Discovering what my skills and tendencies and ambitions were.
The next few years are about you. About what I can do to help. About how we can inspire each other to be better in every aspect of our lives.
I was lost. I detached myself. I sought guidance. I asked questions. And I’ll continue to do the practises I’ve developed in the process. But now, the focus is on you.
What can I do to help?