Quietly in a room alone

French mathematician, physicist, philosopher, writer (and all-round 17th-century renaissance man) Blaise Pascal famously said that ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ Covid-19 and the necessity (or imposition, whichever side you’re on) of lockdown has tested us on this. That is to say, some of us and in some ways.

I write ‘some of us’ as I refer primarily to those of who switched to working from home. And ‘in some ways’ because we are of course, in wealthier countries, digitally connected. We may technically be ‘alone’, yet we have access to communication upon pushing a few buttons.

Still, there’s no doubt that in lockdown, we’re most of us more isolated than before. ‘Isolation’ may appear a strong word, but it comes from the Latin insula, meaning ‘island.’ And that’s how I imagine us, individuals and small family units, inhabiting the islands of our homes, immersed in our own micro-cultures. Or perhaps like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince and the people he meets on his travels, each inhabiting a separate planet, their own tiny worlds revolving, quite literally around them. The deluded king, the preoccupied businessman…

I digress. The point is that most of us have had more time on our own than usual. The sheer number of distractions is, typically, far less. I am alone at my desk, pending my next Zoom meeting, no occasional chatter with colleagues, no ‘tea round’, no city crowd, no commute; not the distractions of getting lunch, a coffee, newspaper, small talk in shops, with neighbours; no social events – unless, again, online.

Solitude need not mean loneliness

In the non-working hours, have I filled this greater alone-time with digital distraction and personal admin., or have I used it more productively? Have I taken the opportunity to sit, think and reflect, as Pascal seems to suggest, or to increase the time I can spend on reading and on writing? Or have I surrendered to the clamour of social media, taken long trips down the Youtube ‘rabbit hole’?

It’s varied. In times of anxiety, I have sought easy, mindless distraction. In times of strength and new resolution, I have looked to use the time for creative pursuits, perhaps meditation. Seldom, however, have I simply, silently, thought.

There’s a wider point. Have we lost the art of living without constant stimulation on tap? Of sitting quietly, appreciating what another 17th-century polymath, Thomas Browne, called “… the advantage of solitude, and the society of thyself,” with all the advantages of quiet contemplation, self-reflection and self-awareness that can bring.

In her article ‘Solitude as Medicine’, Virginia Thomas highlights key, research-based benefits of time alone. We enter an affective state of “low-arousal” as opposed to ‘high-arousal” or highly stimulated by activity and environment. A low-arousal state has a “de-activating” or disconnecting effect on our nervous system. We can experience this as loneliness or boredom – or more positively as calm and relaxation.

As an aside, this may relate to some older folks commenting that kids today need to have the opportunity to get ‘bored’ – left to their own devices, without complex toys and electronic gadgets, to fuel the imagination, to learn how to occupy themselves.

Thomas also points out that solitude evidently acts as a form of self-regulation, providing balance between fluctuation of the positive and negative emotional states we normally encounter in fast-paced lives. This sounds like allowing your mind to go into ‘neutral gear’ or stand-by mode. This state allows feeling we have been ignoring, or perhaps been unaware of, to arise and be addressed.

So perhaps we need to understand that solitude is not necessarily about disconnection from the outside world and from others, but rather taking time to exercise reflection and introspection. I wonder whether it is a lesson we’ll carry into (what we hope will soon be) a post-Covid world.

Image thanks
Main image photo by Allec Gomes on Unsplash
Smaller image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 

34 thoughts on “Quietly in a room alone

  1. Interesting idea and I had to think about it. I love being alone so on its surface, this seemed true, but we may survive but we don’t thrive alone. Studies show that–babies raised without others around it, that sort. We learn about ourselves and our species by seeing others. I worry a lot about babies who will not learn to read faces because we’re all masked.

    Good topic as usual.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is a concern right now; I worry about my children’s social skills and being around groups of people. Not to mention too much screen time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, those are big worries. And there seems to be no interest in balancing evils. I’m thankful my kids are grown!

        Like

    2. 😮 All the hours I’ve spent watching and reading covid stories this past year, I’ve never heard the babies reading faces before! Wow.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I have the same reaction. How is this not being talked about. I know from the teachers in my classes, they are getting increasing numbers of students who are uncomfortable around groups. That bad enough but to not be able to read faces, bodies–that scares me.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. It’s so utterly fundamental. Babies are having both the skill of reading faces and opportunities for modelling of behaviour limited.

          Like

  2. I enjoy my solitude – or I did, before covid crashed my quiet time alone 😉
    But I agree, kids need some time without gadgets to learn to be more creative with their time and find stimulation away from technology.

    Like

    1. My children are a little older, so I am able to find alone-time. However, they are on screens too much and not getting that fully rounded education. Hoping the light’s at the end of the tunnel!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Since I’m an introvert, the being alone hasn’t bothered me too much…but I do miss seeing my friends and family on occasion. I’ve had more time to write and explore new hobbies, but yes, I would like to sit down to a good visit with my son and grandchildren—then go home. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am also an introvert, my energy supplies topped up by time alone. But I realise that I don’t always use time alone to reflect, but fill it with a different sort of ‘noise’ a lot of the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An ability that came later in life

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope to be able to develop it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael Graeme Mar 2, 2021 — 6:32 pm

    I think we do all benefit from some quiet time alone, to digest our thoughts and enable other unconscious processing. Having said that I know there are those who are uncomfortable in their own company, and could never for example eat alone in a restaurant. Such gregarious people must have suffered a lot over the last year. Or if you’re inclined the other way, like me, and, for example, crave solitude outdoors, it’s difficult when you find your own locale suddenly overcrowded, and you can’t travel out to remoter places. I’d like to think there are lessons for all of us here, that we can learn going forward, and that we don’t rush the return to normality, but change it in subtle ways.|

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, lockdown makes me think about those people who get their energy from social situations – rather than from needing solo time to re-charge. I know some, and they’ve been climbing the walls. I also recognise the sense that ‘outdoors’ suddenly seems very crowded, particularly living in a semi-rural area, where normally so many of us commute or travel further into nearby countryside for recreation. There is a lot to learn, and hope one of our reflections as individuals and as a society is not rushing to put things back the exact same way they were before – for our wellbeing and environment.|

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Being alone is a beautiful thing. Alone doesn’t mean you are sad. It is time to reflect and ponder 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree – if we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity for reflection, we should take it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Solitude is fine. Silence is great. I always tell my daughters that the true test of friendship is not what you talk about with friends. The test is how long you can stay in complete silence with a friend. One of my oldest friends and I took a fortnight hike in the lower Alps. 7-8 hours climbing and coming down from one valley to the other. When walking we didn’t talk. We talked at breaks, meal or when there was something particularly important to comment. Otherwise we spent hourls walking together in silence…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. being alone in silence has become something of a skill. Perhaps it always was – most people have worked hard with little down time, and had to live in close confines with others.
      I agree about ‘quiet companionship, sharing an experience but not rushing to fill the space with spoken words. The example of your Alpine walk sounds idyllic, the perfect combination of companionship and quiet contemplation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My friend took his wife and three grown kids there 2-3 years ago. They hiked a few days. His wife later told me that they were fed up with: “Here we did this.” Here we crossed the river… etc. 😉
        Bon week-end Libre

        Liked by 1 person

        1. 🙂 Memories are such a personal diary.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Indeed. Bonne semaine, Libre.

            Like

  8. I envy those who can find that time when they are alone to gather their thoughts and explore retrospectively. The cold of winter, along with the threat of COVID19 has put me in the company of an extrovert who needs (or at least thinks he needs) constant distractions. Sure, there’s a room where I can find less racket, but utter quietude is something I won’t be able to experience until the weather gets warmer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Schools start back here next week, so finding quiet ties may get easier for me here. Assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, hope spring is on its way soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I live in the northern hemisphere. The weather is starting to warm up. Now, I just need to find a tactful way to kick the extrovert out the door. ;P

        Liked by 1 person

        1. 🙂 Leave we introverts to ourselves!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Pascal is sooooo right! Couldn’t say it better 🙂
    Great post and I agreed with you, but I think we are so connected via soc media, that we can’t truly say we are alone… or “isolated”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true. I never thought I’d get on edge without access to some form of electronic device, I am no phone addict, but I do. Must try a digital detox some time. With the kids, I daren’t book a holiday destination with no wifi, though!

      Like

  10. btw, I can be alone, for a long time… i mean without any conversation, connection, or people. I had such experience.

    … but I always need books 🙂 hard without books. Or at least animals 😀

    Like

  11. “Have we lost the art of living without constant stimulation on tap?” Yes.

    Also, I absolutely loathed The Little Prince when I had to teach it, but I see the value now. Perhaps, I’ve matured.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I found it a difficult read myself, despite its short length! A bit too surreal, perhaps, and the sadness of the ending, futility of dying for an unrequited love. Yet for all that, some images stay with me; it’s so full of allegory.

    Like

  13. I’ve learned to sit quietly in a room alone when I was just a kid. It was weird at first and sometimes I even wonder if that broke me in some ways, but I also know it has brought me a lot of good. “Thomas also points out that solitude evidently acts as a form of self-regulation, providing balance between fluctuation of the positive and negative emotional states we normally encounter in fast-paced lives.” is exactly how I feel about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. Whether we call it mindfulness, meditation, or simple quiet reflection, there is a recalibration that takes place with a little calm alone time.

      Like

Leave a Reply to K E Garland Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close