Most of us volunteers are afraid of being alone during the project. Scientists conducted an experiment in which they offered people a choice: to receive an electric shock or to be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Believe it or not, many people preferred the first option. The good news, however, is that the ability to tolerate isolation is a skill that, like any other, can be improved with practice.
Whether you're following a self-isolation regimen in hopes of flattening the incidence curve or quarantined for a positive COVID-19 test, you probably feel panic for a second at the thought of being cut off from your colleagues and project friends. for weeks or even months. This is not surprising. Social distancing is a brutal measure. For thousands of years, young people have found comfort in each other's company, so isolation is extremely difficult to endure.
However, we need to be honest with ourselves: our fear of loneliness did not arise with the pandemic. He has been living in us for many years, since we have forgotten how - or perhaps never knew how - to be alone with our thoughts and feelings. Most of us are afraid of being on our own because knowing ourselves is fearful. To avoid this fear, we turn on a TV show or podcast or call friends one by one.
There are many reasons for our inability to be alone with ourselves. This is not our fault; our culture encourages communication, and voluntary loneliness is considered the lot of losers and abnormalities. When we do find ourselves alone, we are attacked by a variety of temptations. Entertainment is always just a click away. Avoiding your inner world has never been easier. Who wants to indulge in discouragement and boredom when you can text a friend, watch a series on Netflix, or call someone on Zoom?
It is technology that is usually offered as a cure for loneliness during a pandemic. And I'm not going to deny their benefits. Loneliness causes not only mental but also physical suffering. I live alone, so in order not to go crazy, I also go to zoom parties from time to time.
However, such decisions are superficial, because they help to avoid loneliness, but they do not teach you to endure it. As a result, we are only more afraid of being alone with ourselves. Psychological research over the years has shown that avoiding negative emotions is a bad strategy. By doing so, we recognize that we cannot cope with these emotions, and then they become even stronger. But how can we take advantage of this opportunity to learn not to run away from loneliness, but to face our fears?
What can people who survived solitary confinement teach us?
First you need to distinguish between voluntary and forced loneliness. Many of the young people who devoted themselves to the first — monks and hermits, philosophers and artists — can teach us a lot. But in this case, the experience of people from the second category is much more useful for us.
To learn how to be alone with a volunteer, you must first of all open up to this experience, and not rush to be distracted. You need to turn loneliness into a fruitful practice that will help you understand who you are and where to go next.
If these tips sound familiar, it’s because they are based on proven methods outlined by the experienced recluses we met earlier. Sources ranging from ancient Buddhist texts to advice from modern Western psychologists and mindfulness instructors contain the same strategies. This is encouraging.
If you are feeling lonely, remember that many people have been in a similar situation before you and have provided helpful tips on how to get the most out of the experience. Now you just become one of them. You always have your friends and family members that you can reach by phone or Zoom. In no case should you give up these technologies. But there is a big difference between using them to escape loneliness, and using them consciously, experiencing loneliness and coping with it.