APARTNESS

We like to spend time with ourselves. After a time loneliness wears on us. We become irritable. We feel depressed and self-centred. We become lonelier. Quarantine upsets normal social rhythms. There is feeling of less connectedness. Frequently washing hands, wiping down surfaces makes one suspect to oneself.

“All humanity’s problem stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” said Blais Pascal in the seventeenth century. Sitting alone, quarantined, is not easy.

We are afraid of silence. We look for distractions to avoid boredom. We fall into the trap of false comforts of the mind. We are now living in a world where we are connected to everything except ourselves. We are addicted to ‘outside’ rather than ‘inside’. We dread nothingness. We dread facing the self. Our internal conflicts remain. Despite so intimately connected to everything else around us, we feel lonely. We feel isolated. We begin to love distraction. We want to do something instead of doing nothing. We become averse to simply being.

Being alone and connecting inwardly is a skill we have to learn ourselves. We have to think more about our interactions with others. Our ability to explain is a great leveller. The best way to learn is to teach. Meditation is process of seeking. It manages one’s internal crisis. It is a process of observing without judgment. It is a process of becoming comfortable in silence. It is a process of making one a better version of oneself.

We hate being alone. We hate to be with our thoughts. We hate doing even 15 minutes of thinking. We don’t like to spend time in ‘inward-directed thought’ even when we are not busy. We don’t want to spend time in ‘just thinking’. The urge to immerse our attention in external things is so instinctive that we are scarcely aware of it. We spend time on the emails, tweets and texts even if they annoy us. Yet we gladly embrace the interruptions. We are losing faith in our thoughts. Outside world is becoming more enchanting for us.

Henry David Thoreau experimented with self-isolation. He wrote “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” in a rural setting in a state of semi self- quarantine. It was not enforced isolation. And his apartness was far from total. He went into Concord several times a week to catch up on gossip and have dinner with his relatives. Thoreau created from it constructive solitude. Social distancing came naturally to him. In his retreat (a refuge from “the noise of my contemporaries”) he found “a place of opportunity where he could do what he could not easily do in the everyday world: namely, concentrate, focus.” He thought, “To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.” Thoreau wanted to live in the Nature with raised antennas.

We are social species. Social distancing is not a natural phenomenon for us. Keeping in view the prevailing COVID situation, we are expected to avoid large gatherings and close contact with others. We are expected to suppress our ‘evolutionarily hardwired impulses for connection’. It is not  easy. But it is the requirement of the time.

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