I've always found it immensely fascinating how different people deal so differently with two very human things : being alone and expressing themselves. Over the past year I've realised how intricately those two things are actually linked. It seems to me that, in very simple terms, the more we express ourselves in a way that is honest and true to our core, the more we find ourselves alone.
This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Being alone can be divinely peaceful and serene, like the feeling of showering under a waterfall, even if you're stuck in a busy metropolitan, immersed in the irregular noise of traffic and constant stench of smog.
It can also be devastatingly painful, like gasping for air to breathe, even if you're in a beautiful nature reserve, assuming you weren't dragged there by kidnappers who happened to have gagged you. Because then you wouldn't be alone.
The point is, our experience of being alone, and whether it’s a positive experience or not, has little to do with where exactly we find ourselves. It also has little to do with whether we're literally alone or not. We could be in the company of family and friends, or unidentified kidnappers, and feel equally alone in both instances. The experience is about how we feel, not the logistical realities of our circumstance.
So why do some of us aggressively fight to be alone, and find an infinite peace (or at least illusion thereof) in solitude, whilst others amongst us will reach for every possible distraction to avoid facing the eerie silence of their phone not ringing with message notifications? I honestly don't know for sure.
What I can tell you is that this is a confusing mystery I've been trying to figure out ever since I was a kid and, over the past couple of months, understanding this mystery a little better has helped me deal with my pain and lessen my suffering.
When I was a very young boy, I believed I was very introverted and would spend countless hours lost in stories — either in books or in my own imagination. I was a perpetual day-dreamer and was constantly weaving countless stories in my mind, to the point that I would often get scolded for being absent-minded and clumsy.
It’s not that I was a loner. I had plenty of friends, but when I was out playing with them, there was always a part of me that felt displaced and a tiny bit homesick. As I got older, and reached the more arrogant stage of adolescence, I realised those feelings didn’t actually go away. They just got covered up with more prolific distractions, like the Internet, and a whole new world of creativity that it gave me access to.
A part of that creativity was communicating with other people and creating new relationships, often with people oceans away. Bear in mind, this was well before the era of Facebook, at a time where social media marketing meant selling pirated music CDs to other kids at school.
Nonetheless, as I went through life, one of the most prolific distractions I nurtured, to cover up those feelings of not belonging anywhere in particular, became people. And I've realised this is very true for a lot of others as well.
When we're hurting from less than pleasant circumstances, it might be perfectly natural for us to want some alone time, but society has us convinced that this is profoundly unhealthy. Isolating ourselves is dangerous, erratic behaviour and needs to be nipped in the bud. Quick, eat some pills! And we too often do, although not always literally.
We're so afraid of questioning this social diagnosis of pathology — because even that would require some level of solitude and introspection — that we turn to the most superficial of interactions and relationships as a reprieve from the very thought that we might be completely abandoned, unwanted and, ultimately, unloved.
The more we might need some peaceful solitude and introspection, the more aggressively we push it away, and in the more serious cases the superficial interactions devolve into toxic and abusive relationships, and the distractions become dangerous and deeply ingrained addictions.
Then there are the rare few who fall on the other end of the spectrum. Those who so deeply fear the vulnerability and potential hurt that comes with loving fully and connecting meaningfully with other people, that they deliberately push away anything more than superficial and fleeting interactions, even with regular members of their social environment.
What’s left is a deep craving within these people for being alone, but it’s usually the same people caught in subservient and abusive relationships, unable to put their own needs and desires ahead of their fears and insecurities, or the demands of the few people in their life who secure a position of authority by obligation amidst a cesspool of detachment and social anxiety.
Needless to say, both these situations can seem devastating and extreme once you dig under the surface, yet they exist at a mild and subtle level so prevalently in western society that you'd be forgiven for thinking true inner contentment, especially in moments of solitude, is impossible. I don't think it is.
Just as meaningful relationships and successful businesses/careers take effort, persistence and a conquering of our fears and insecurities, finding peace within ourselves, and with ourselves, takes work.
For me, the challenge has been to sit still with myself and find meaning and depth in solitude. The thing is though that, just like everyone else, I never quite bother doing this until I absolutely need to, which happens to be at the same time I least want to. In moments of pain, loss, heartache and grieving, I’m as susceptible to grasping for straws of quick reassurance and instant validation as the next guy.
Simply being mindful of this fact, however, has itself given me the courage to stare deep into my mind, heart and soul — even at the risk of ignoring Nietzsche’s warning and becoming the abyss — and what I've found is something remarkably simple, yet profoundly more reassuring than anything I've ever found outside of myself.
More fundamental than being loved by someone else, more validating than being praised and encouraged by others, what I’ve always needed, especially in times of despair, has been to express myself, openly and freely.
I can't promise you that that’s exactly what you need too, but I'll definitely encourage you to consider it. There are a lot of ways I express myself, and obviously writing is a big one, but instead of writing in a desperate drive for feedback, writing for the sake of self-expression has been what’s helped me find glimmers of hope and peace in solitude, rather than feeling failed, abandoned and isolated.
Do I still hurt from all that’s transpired? Absolutely.
Will I hurt again? Probably.
Do I still wish some things had been different? You bet.
Do I finally have everything figured out? Most certainly not!
But let me tell you something I have figured out from my own bit of perspective, dash of gratitude, slice of solitude and a hint of self-expression…
Nobody really does.
And I really don't think that’s what life is about. I don't know if I'll ever catch that elusive buzzing around my head, just out of view, but I know I'll always be hungry — hungry to experience more richly, learn more freely, live more fully and love more openly.
And I know that I don't want to die, but I will. We all will one day and that one day can creep up on us at any time without warning. So I want to take whatever chances I can while I’m here and keep growing from all of my mistakes and failures as I go along.
My name is Dev Singh and I've accepted a mission that I don't remember signing up for: A mission to continuously create greater purpose and meaning out of my existence, and to make a difference in the world that transcends the limitations of my own being.