Over the weekend I read How To Be Alone by Sara Maitland. The simplicity of the basic human desire to have time alone in order to ruminate on life or “recharge your batteries” is reflected in the unembellished book cover design and the unassuming title.
Part of the School of Life series published by Pan MacMillan, it explores the opportunities for solitude in our modern age and addresses the paradox presented by a culture that embraces personal autonomy, fulfilment and independence whilst at the same time often denigrating those who choose to live alone. Maitland makes reference to an almost innate reaction we can sometimes feel when meeting someone who spends the majority of time in their own company; a sense perhaps of compassion or suspicion. The self help genre is one I tend to avoid, encompassing as it does books written by self styled experts who loftily advise on lifestyle amendments but I found this social study immensely engaging and thought provoking.
The book offers a number of convincing answers to the question of “why would anyone want to be alone?” In today’s fast paced and image absorbed world, modern life seems to present an omnipresent stream of mediated contact which keeps us connected to the virtual world. How many friends do I have on Facebook? How many people are reading my blog? We seem to live exclusively in relation to others, the computer creates a web of interconnectivity and social life can often descend in to a tumult of petty concerns.
The act of being alone has been principally seen as a fundamental dimension of religious experience but it need not remain confined within religious parameters. Securing one’s self possession during moments of solitude, detaching oneself from the demands placed upon your time and emotions is so important. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Nowadays, it is difficult to be truly alone.
For more information on books in the School of Life series, click here