On solitude

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone. - French philosopher Blaise Pascal

In today's world, we’re surrounded by constant stimulation. Even when we’re by ourselves, we're usually staring at our phones. We’re more connected than ever, yet we struggle with mental and emotional health by constantly comparing ourselves to others. In our desire to limit loneliness, we miss out on the benefits of solitude.

I grew up in a large, close-knit family in India. My parents, brother, grandparents, and I lived together, along with daily visits from friends or extended family. This collectivist lifestyle meant there was always something going on, and it offered many benefits for young children like myself who were yet to develop an interest in voluntary time alone.

As I grew older, however, my comfort with and appreciation for solitude also grew. Moving to the United States and being with my relatively introverted partner exposed me to the value of alone time.

I first began to see the benefits of solitude when I picked up a meditation practice, initially out of curiosity, having heard about the potential benefits on podcasts. The initial reward was reduced stress, which is a great outcome in itself. Over time, meditation has helped me increase my focus and enhance my creativity. I’ve noticed these benefits persist even when I fall out of a meditation routine.

Meditation is just one way I’ve experienced the positive effects of solitude. Journaling, reading books, finding frequent time for reflection, and an annual digital detox have all been equally powerful.

All of these practices combined have enabled me to get to know myself better. I've learned hidden truths about who I am and what I really care about, processed repressed emotions and issues, and become more comfortable in my own skin with less of a need for external validation.

To me, self-knowledge is possibly the most important lifelong pursuit. It’s been a long journey from my childhood of non-stop action to adulthood with regular moments of solitude, but it’s one I’m grateful for.