Zen and Solitude

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It’s difficult to experience true solitude. There seem to be endless forces pulling us toward one another. Many social technologies end up just feeling like black holes of codependence. Every time you feel the vibration or hear the ding in your pocket, your brain spouts a little bit of the feel-good chemical. People yearn for the next likes, retweets, and text messages like dopamine junkies.

This is not to mention “real life” social interaction. It mostly consists of people interacting using personalities almost entirely forged from the remnants of cultural influencers: TV and movie characters, love song tropes, and socio-political expectations. Most of these influencers are so constructed and intangible that they have little grounding in reality.

Social activity has become convoluted, making solitude all the more important and appealing. Introversion is often misunderstood as a self-involved impulse. Solitude is written off as anti-social. God forbid someone feels a natural aversion to the plastic social landscape we find ourselves living in nowadays!

In fact, solitude is anything but egotistical. Watch a group of people interact and you’ll come to realize this. In social situations, communication is often just an assertion of ego, a bunch of individuals each pushing a false sense of self into the cloud, hoping desperately that someone will notice their presence. Solitude is a reality check. You shouldn’t care if anyone cares; you are them and they are you. Stop trying so hard.

To retreat within yourself, to reflect, to meditate— these are the qualities of a well-tuned mind. Only in understanding yourself can you understand others, and only in probing for your true sense of self can you interact in a healthy way. Some people are addicted to social activity and never take time to look at themselves with honesty and humility. This is a surefire way to a life of confusion.

Zen is solitude. The crux of Zen is meditative practice, which is a solitary activity. In embracing solitude, you come to realize that forced interaction is unnecessary— you are already connected to everything in the world. There is no need to “fit in” or be normal. You can just do you. Solitude makes you a better social person, more grounded.

Spend a bit of time each day meditating and reflecting on your perceived notions of “self”. You’ll find that confusions and delusions begin to fade away. What you’re left with over time is a rock-hard core of self, and the knowledge that you are both wholly unique and deeply a part of the world’s functioning. There’s no need for codependence. There’s no need to force anything.