‘The times are urgent, we need to slow down.’ — African saying cited by Bayo Akomolafe.
It was the third week of March 2020. We were amid the country’s total lockdown. No work. No socialising. Shopping only for necessities. The roads were empty. It was a strange, disturbing and slightly disorienting time.
Yet, instead of feeling fear and anxiety, I was overcome by a sense of calmness and peace. It felt weird because the period mimicked living in some future dystopia. It was as if states were policed; all that the media did was publish or broadcast the number of people infected with the coronavirus and those who had died.
To make things worse, the world stock markets were crashing. The leaders of all our countries were panicking and spiralling from one bad decision to another.
There was genuine widespread fear as no one seemed to know what to do, even those entrusted to act on our behalf in the big decisions. Still, I was awash with a feeling of an inner peace that I couldn’t recall ever feeling before.
As the pandemic claimed more victims, especially when it affected people within my expanse, I started to feel slightly anxious. I was scared, but peaceful. How can such an incongruence be present within me?
Life paused. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. The pandemic and what ensued with it—isolation and a sense of mortality— slowed us down, nudging us to question how we live.
Suddenly, which show at the theatre or where to dine out didn’t come up in our thoughts on Friday night. What was the best route to make it to work on Monday morning? Again, not on our mind.
We were less distracted with stuff that would have hitherto dominated our day. All the doing things—going to the post office, laundry, shopping, socialising, work etc., were reduced to leave us with a lot of time to reflect and contemplate our lives.
Some found other ways to busy their lives, whether by gaming, reading every best-seller or watching every Netflix show. But surely, most of us were urged to slow down by a higher power.
At this crucial point in the fight for humanity’s very existence, we asked ourselves some big questions, salient of them being questions about where we are in our lives and what we want to do next.
True, a sense of isolation is a harmful state; however, because we were locked up at home feeling secure with food, shelter and family or friends (for some of us), it felt rather more like “alone time”.
There is a difference between being alone and feeling isolated. Psychology Today explains it best as follows:
“Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. It is possible to be with people and still feel lonely—perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.
“Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself.
Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.”
The solitude I felt during the lockdown led to many positives which I have highlighted below.
The moments I had without being distracted by the doing things I did before removed all the tension and stress that had built up from before. This feeling of solitary bliss allowed me to sit alone and be steadfast as thoughts and urges of what to do next came to me, as I tried to let them quietly go.
There was no noise to distract me, there were no demands on me and there were no expectations of me when alone. I was not under pressure to do or be, and as such, I had this feeling of relief that permeated my whole being, and as such, I found myself calmer more times than not.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear” — Ram Dass.
Again, as I spent much time alone, I sat alone and listened to my thoughts. I began to see them for what they were. The more I contemplated my true self, the better I got to know myself. I saw where I’ve gone wrong and what steps I needed to carry out to correct my behaviours.
Itch to create
“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” — Franz Kafka.
The solitude and removing ourselves from the noisy activity of life is the bedrock of creativity, as we start hearing our thoughts, and reach deep into ourselves to find our true voice.
The deeper we reach, the more likely we are to meet our muse, and suddenly wonderful ideas and insights appear magically.
The time we spend alone also helps us cultivate the ability to focus for longer periods.
Einstein, Goethe, Kafka, Tesla are only a few of the many greats who changed our world and being alone played a big part in their creative process as great ideas would flow to them during solitude.
I found that I did my best writing during those long periods of solitude. I would get up early and write unencumbered for hours on end.
Away from other’s influences
No matter how we look at things, people affect us. We intend going for a short lunch and before we know it, plans change and friends want to do something else, and now we are under an influence to spend more time with them instead of the time we wanted to spend alone.
In looking at the grand scheme of things, I became clearer about what matters to me and what matters to people and society. I started to value my alone time. I also began to learn to say no more times than I would have said yes.
Fast forward to two years later. It’s the ninth month of 2022 and things have gradually got back to normal. We are back to the busyness that dominates our lives.
Do we discard all that we learned from the power of being alone? I think not.
We now know that it’s okay to be alone. This solitude, being with our inner self, is an intrinsic need that must be fulfilled every day. We cultivate a friendship with our genuine true self that will bring us glorious benefits for the rest of our lives.
There are many ways in incorporating the time for solitude in our daily routine and I’ve found it by rising early, and just before the sun comes out is a beautiful time to be truly alone. I have also found long walks to be a great way to spend time alone and whenever I’m in a big city where walking is easy and practical, then I would walk either through the big parks or discover the city itself.
Being out and about in nature, whether living on a farm, beach, river, in the countryside or going on weekend retreats to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle is another great way to get solitude.
COVID-19, the pandemic and 2020 will remain etched in our hearts as a year of significant changes, a black swan in the history of humanity. However, learning how to slow down and profit from being alone is one lesson we should also engrave on our hearts.