Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Being Alone

Why are most people so afraid to spend time alone?

Each year when I teach new graduate students who are training to become counselors I ask them a question that goes something like this…

What is the longest period of time that you have spent alone? But before they are allowed to answer I give some restrictions. This alone time cannot be while you are sleeping. It cannot be while you are driving. You cannot be reading anything. It cannot be while you going somewhere or accomplishing a task (walking, running, exercising, etc.) It cannot be while you are eating or while you are around others (as in a restaurant or cafe.) Obviously no radio or music or television is allowed. In other words, this is time alone, in silence, where you are there to experience yourself and your own thoughts.

What I have found is that the typical person will tell me that the longest time that meets these criteria is about one hour. Occasionally a few people will have been alone in silence for two hours. This is throughout their entire lifetime!

It is amazing to me how many people in our society are afraid to be alone, even for a short time. They feel the need to be constantly inundated with sounds and sights. The internet is just another one of those distractions, constantly bombarding us with information, while at the same time distracting us from thinking about important things in life.

I think silent, alone time is important for all of us. It gives us time to think, relax and examine our purpose in life. The first time I learned the power of solitary silence was back when I was on a 25-day Colorado Outward Bound experience when I was 24 years old. During our time in the wilderness we were each required to spend a 72 hour period during which we had no human contact. It was not a survival exercise; it was a time to get in touch with ourselves. To this day, that was one of the most powerful and positive experiences in my life. I finally had taken the time in my life to look at me.

I guess I think of silence a little differently than most people. I once read a psychologist describe that silence should be treated like fine wine…observed and consumed slowly…taken in and experienced…not feared but embraced. And I think that silent time with others can be valuable too…a time where we can experience each other without words getting in the way.

So, the next time you are alone with a chance for silence, don’t turn on the television or your computer or your IPod. And, don’t immediately try to find someone to be with. Try experiencing the silence and discover the person you are. You may be positively surprised by the incredible depth of your own personality!


  1. Amy Barensfeld11 March, 2010 06:28

    Excellent.. as a single person I can relate.. the problem is .. Now I prefer being alone.

  2. Both silence and solitude are considered spiritual disciplines. Have you read Richard Foster…he teaches at SAU occasionally for the spiritual formation program, usually week-long, J-term courses. If you have a chance, you would probably enjoy his works, or even taking one of his classes…I have taken a 3-day solitary retreat, but I only made it for three hours sitting still, alone, doing absolutely nothing. I prefer to walk, or even pace…movement helps me think.

  3. Amy, That just shows you are comfortable with yourself...not a bad thing.