It has been a topic in recent years, but how to be alone is a question we’ve all had to deal with. Some do so better than others. There are those who need it, at least for a while. And then there are people who can’t stand to be alone. They need people around them. And I’m not saying which one is better. A healthy combination is needed for us to have a balanced life. But knowing how to be alone is an important step in our growth as a person and in accepting who we are.
When we read Marcus Aurelius, we can see that he keeps reminding himself that we are part of society.
“You participate in a society by your existence. Then participate in its life through your actions – all your actions. Any actions not directed toward a social end (directly or indirectly) is a disturbance to your life, an obstacle to wholeness, a source of dissension. Like the man in the Assembly – a faction to himself, always out of step with the majority.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, book 9.23
What does it mean to be alone?
Reading this looks like it contradicts what this post is about. But let’s delve deeper. What does it mean to be alone? How can we be part of a society while we are alone? There are different ways of being alone and accepting oneself. We can have a specific drive to be alone or to be with others. What we want to look into here is learning how to be alone in your mind. Being able to accept your thoughts, worries, and doubts. Then bringing your true self back to society.
Family, friends, and acquaintances. are externals. We do not control their thoughts or actions. They come and they will go, whether we want to or not. We’ve learned this from Epictetus, that the only thing we can control are our own actions. We need to be able to rely on ourselves. But how can we if we are running away from ourselves? Sometimes it is good to be forced to face yourself. It might not be easy, but learning how to do it is vital. It will give you a solid base to all back on when other things around you fall apart.
We live our lives alone
We will tie it all together with the quote above later, but for now, we will go into how to be alone. What does it mean to be alone? It can mean being physically alone, somewhere by yourself. Many of us lived through that experience during the pandemic and all the lockdowns. Being shut off from the rest of the world. All by yourself, yet connected to the world in a shared experience. But no one felt it the same way. In some ways, it was a blessing for me. I learned a great deal about myself and started some interesting projects. It felt like I gained time. But that also had its limits. Showing that we do need that social interaction after a while.
Why is it important to know how to be alone? It might be a sobering idea, but we live our lives alone. We do have people around us, but they lead their own lives. We need to learn to focus on ourselves because no one else will live our lives for us. At least not the way we would love to.
“But it is a much finer thing to be happy, to have a peaceful and undisturbed mind, to have what concerns you dependent on nobody but yourself.”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 4, Chapter 4.36
Know who you are
If we want that peaceful and undisturbed mind, then we need to create it. It is still something I struggle with. I still live too much trying to chase what I think others require of me. It’s a big part of my personality and it can cause me to go into a well of doubt and second-guessing. I’m getting better at dealing with it. It’s easier to recognize those moments and I know that they come and go. Stoicism has helped me deal with this better. Fine words by the Stoics with their direct approach. As if they knew what was troubling my mind.
A big step in the process is knowing who we are. You can read a post about that here. But this is the foundation. Only we can do that. We know our innermost thoughts when we are distressed or happy. Feeling when we are in line with who we are. But we need to learn to listen to ourselves and stand up for who we are. This is an important step in knowing how to be alone. Be one with yourself and accept who you are.
It’s your purpose alone
In the meantime, we are also looking for our purpose. Here is a deeper dive into that topic. When we understand better who we are, we will get closer to a sense of purpose. These two go in lock-step and are applied at the same time. But to do so, we need some quiet and silence. We need to be able to listen to ourselves. If our minds are in turmoil, then the real thoughts aren’t heard. For this, we need some time alone. And while we are alone, we need to understand that this is important for our well-being. Block the time off, no distractions. You can choose to meditate, journal, run, cycle, or do a repetitive activity that can help you clear your mind. But accept yourself during this time.
We all have our flaws and our strengths. There is no exception to this. You can look at others and think they have it all figured out, but I can assure you, they don’t. Be kind to yourself, we are all trying to figure this all out. And that’s where we can tie it back in with our quote by Marcus. While we are figuring life out, we are part of a society. And we can best serve that society if we are true to ourselves. That’s where we can be of best use. When we know who we are, with a better sense of purpose and the ability to be alone and accept ourselves.
The life of a good man
“And then you might see what the life of the good man is like – someone content with what nature assigns him, and satisfied with being just and kind himself.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4.25
There we have it in a beautiful phrase by Marcus Aurelius. What is the life of a good man like? Someone content with what nature assigns him. All the qualities one possesses and understanding them. Know what the strengths and weaknesses are. This will lead you to become a good member of society. Furthermore, to be satisfied with being just and kind. We must start to practice that on ourselves. To be just and kind to ourselves, only then can we do the same to others. For that, we need to reflect on who we are. We must learn how to be alone and to connect with ourselves.
Find some time for yourself. Think, write, and listen to yourself. Figure out who you are, and what your duty or purpose is, and then accept it. Be content with being who you are. If you do so, then you’ll be able to be alone and live a good life. While on the other hand, when within society, you’ll be able to resist peer pressure, know how to act, and remain true to yourself. But the foundation needs to come from you. Learn how to be alone and find your strength to be the best you can be to the people around you.