Community-Minded Indonesians Need to Embrace Solitude

Tuesday, 07 July 2015 - 10:12:13 WIB
By : Vidi Aziz | Category: Social Issues - 16256 hits
I got a Skype call from one of my Indonesian friends a couple of months ago. She confided in me about being uncomfortable and hurt by her friends who made fun of her, because she had been practicing solitude of late.

“I was called a loner and I hate it! I don’t think Indonesia is a safe place for seekers of solitude like us.”

She was spot on. In a society that puts much value on communality, Indonesians can be a bit judgmental towards people who occasionally withdraw from the community. I lived the first 19 years of my life in Indonesia and I am aware how averse to solitude people can be. In my younger years, I often got picked on by my peers for my seeming eccentricity. Sometimes I would wander alone in my town aimlessly, observing the society I lived in. Sitting alone in a library or a café to brainstorm ideas was part of my routine. Often this was done while others looked at me in puzzlement or with pity.

The notion of a close-knit community is a beauty and terror at the same time. The effort that we make to create harmony in our society is profoundly useful. It’s really easy to ask for help without feeling vulnerable, because we believe that human beings are destined to help each other. But on the other hand, for some of us the culture of communality can be a terror. Try to seek occasional retreat from our world of connectivity, and you’d be labeled a loner. Doesn’t matter that the occasional practice of solitude is known to have a reinvigorating effect on your life.

Why are we so afraid of being alone? The answers may vary.

Adam Phillips, the great British psychoanalytical writer, theorizes that our capacity for solitude traces back to the formative experience of childhood, comparing the affinity for solitude to our affinity for certain other people.

“And yet one’s first experience of solitude, like one's experience of the other, is fraught with danger…. For this reason, perhaps, it is the phobia relating to solitude that for some people persists throughout life.”

For me, it’s the way our society perceives solitary people as sad, while valuing those with a vast capacity for constant connection – and with high self-esteem – as a mark of wellbeing. We worship people who are gregarious or those who are stimulated by the high energy of their surrounding – the extroverts.

But, how, then, do we expect ourselves to produce remarkable ideas if we don’t value those solitary moments that nourish our creative mind? It is well established that solitude and creativity are inseparable. Many great intellects of the past saw solitude as an absolute necessity in their lives. Charles Dickens lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude – a state that enabled him to produce his brilliant books. During ideation, he took three-hour walks every afternoon by himself, and what he observed during these walks would be fed into his writing.

If you look at most of the world’s major religion leaders, you will find that Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad went off alone to experience the revelations they later shared with the rest of their communities. No solitude meant no revelation.

In her book How to be Alone, British author Sara Maitland wrote: "We believe that everyone has a singular personal voice and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity – solitude."

But as much as I believe that being solitary is a prerequisite for creative mastery, and though solitude helps me rein in on the chaos of my everyday life, social life remains alluring for me. Making connection with people is wonderful, and I guess that’s what human beings are born for. Collaboration, the opposite of solitude, is something that we must cultivate, after solitude has given us the personal space to produce ideas. Ideas are not viruses, so it should be a part of our daily intake.

Collaboration keeps ideas flourish and develop because they are continuously being shared, reshared, constructed, and reconstructed. I’m not alone in this concept of integrating collaboration and solitude. Take Steve Wozniak for instance. His creativity and intelligence was the outcome of a life of solitude cultivated during his youth, when he explored the nooks and crannies of computers. Later he collaborated with Steve Jobs to create Apple.

So how do we build pockets of stillness into our lives?

You don’t have to be Thoreau, who was notorious for retreating into the wilderness and building his own cabin, where he let his life immersed in nature. The true mark of solitude is eradicating distraction maximally and being content with your own thoughts. Our deepest thoughts, which mostly are the purest and packed with wisdoms, are frequently being neglected because we are so busy executing our superficial ideas. Solitude shows you the paths to access your inner voices.

Practicing solitude is simple. It could be done by taking a walk, going nowhere in particular, shutting off your phones, withdrawing from the social media, and, if possible, meditating.

Embracing solitude in the age of inescapable togetherness is challenging, yet possible. Be prepared to be frowned on, or called a loner. Never care about what people say about your or how they perceive you. After all, how are you going to lead your life, if you don’t listen to yourself and if you keep letting others define your story?

Vidi Aziz is a 21-year-old college sophomore from Solo, Central Java, who is currently living in Michigan, USA. He takes great pleasure in cooking, writing, walking, daydreaming and talking to strangers, delighting in solitary moments and other creative endeavors.

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

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Yulia Ratna Sari | 07 July 2015 | 22:49:52 WIB
hum.... i would like to share my thought on this.... my dear friends who practicing solitude, i have been practicing solitude and meditation mainly for my own welness, but as i came along i found out that being solitude and calm sometimes do not fit to many people here, but then i think did i do anything wrong? well i contemplate on it, that i have my own full right to do so, in fact the way society replied is the opportunity for me to learn, yes to come trough to this conclusion is a long way, but still reachable. Keep practicing my dear solitude minded friend, wherever, whenever you are. I Also learn that i need to have a bit more expression, rather than expression-less, sometimes being in solitude can give us expresion-less, because of the load of equanimity we have.
Ruby | 08 July 2015 | 06:06:11 WIB
Hello, I'm a freelance writer and I've gained my fair share of solitude and togetherness with other people. I truly agree that we do need to be by ourselves sometimes, so we get to listen to our 'inner voice' and just get to know ourselves even more. There's nothing pathetic about it. What's pathetic is that people who have to be with other people all the time to make them feel happy about themselves. The trick is the balance.
Stev | 08 July 2015 | 08:23:00 WIB
Agree. Solitude is strongly needed.
Crowds/Community, as wonderful as it may look like, has a tendency to make a person existentially unaware to her/himself, and this is not my thought but Heidegger's with his concept of Das Man.
Love your final remark!
Annisa | 08 July 2015 | 09:17:21 WIB
Hi Vidi, I'm as close with Solo as you. Took my college degree from Sebelas Maret. And yes I agree with you!
Been called a loner by some of my colleagues in the office because I only hung out with them sometimes during lunch. I really don't mind for being called a loner, though it makes me laugh when they said that to me. They're funny tho, but lunch time in the office, for me, is the best time to reconnect with myself after 2-3 hours of working. Moment of solitude helps me find my way back to myself.
But yes, I do also agree that collaboration is a big deal too! :))
Sebastian Partogi | 08 July 2015 | 10:43:40 WIB
Yeah, as an introvert I also find Indonesia's strong social pressure a bit annoying. When I eat my dinner alone, for example, I can't stand how people are looking at me with that 'I'm-so-sorry' look and ask me 'sendiri aja mas? (are you alone?)', which is rhetorical question as far as I'm concerned, seeking to emphasize just how anomalous I am, going out alone. But year after year I have built a sense of self-confidence: I know I'm not alone because I'm unpopular; far from that. I'd rather keep a small circle of friends with whom I can have deep and high-quality discussions with, rather than spending my time doing small talks with people I'm not even comfortable with.
hendrik | 09 July 2015 | 06:52:41 WIB
watch anime called "my teen romantic is as wrong as i expected"
solitude is getting mainstream soon, or maybe never

social live is too hard yo
Anonymous | 09 July 2015 | 10:35:55 WIB
That is one question that my parents constantly ask me, aren't you lonely there alone? I have been going to school here in the US since I was 18. And the answer is no, I am not lonely even though I spend most of time alone. And yes community-minded society can be drainning and hard to keep up. Approval comes externally (from other people) and not internally. Unfortunately it marginalizes people who arent like the majority, who don't mind being alone. Loneliness is a state of mind, you can be surrounded by people and feel lonely and vice versa, but just because you are alone doesnt mean you are lonely. I think, our society would benefit if it becomes less community minded.
zakki kun | 09 July 2015 | 16:55:53 WIB
Entering the global age means that we are connected, solitude is just about disconnecting (for a whole). Globalization means that the impulse to be drawn into the commonality, with the sensation of togetherness of doing all of the things with all the citizen of the world. Of all the things we achieve today, is because of the society... of the community. Solitude is'nt the thing anymore because of the compulsory "grudge" in global participation, needed solely for the global activation. If we were tend to withdraw from anything then things will only get worst. Solitude isnt for the society but for our self as an individual . The solitude we need is a meditation just an hour, try it.

And there's that balance, its an art of "switch", there's a place for everything even for our solitude. switch can be very useful, the solitude of our self is not with drawing but finding our own self. I hope for the best
fizi | 09 July 2015 | 19:47:10 WIB
I think in Indonesia the social pressure is much stronger in non-metropolis area. At least, from my own experience, in Jakarta and Bandung people usually doesn't really that care whether you're alone or not. Of course they still ask sort of "what do you do?" when I come back from my hermit time.
Diana | 10 July 2015 | 18:16:04 WIB
I prefer traveling and going to cinema alone to with companies. I also prefer doing individual tasks to group tasks. There are some things better done alone.
Mila | 11 July 2015 | 18:30:47 WIB
I bet you either read Susan Cain's book. Because I can tell some of things that you talk about here is taken from her book :)
Introvert is often misunderstood, sometimes even by him/herself.
Kris | 05 August 2015 | 18:52:32 WIB
nice writing , in deed dining alone is seen in pity but purely also lack of understanding for people who prefer to eat alone, i run a restaurant and the thought of putting such a person in the middle of a restaurant in the midst of many groups is unheard of within the industry(put them in the corner where nobody will see them). But i have learned over the past that people prefer to eat alone to really taste the food or need to re collect their thoughts whilst still busy eating. Food is to be shared within many cultures but to eat our food alone can be stomach filling therefore we also tailor the portions.
Rosedragon | 04 April 2016 | 00:22:17 WIB
For sometime I was swayed by the society that somehow seems to say 'you have no life if you keep being alone and just play games / work from home'. Now, the more and more introvert articles and people voice out they feeling... the more I know I can give no f. Thanks, for again and again reassuring it is fine to be alone.
Rosedragon | 04 April 2016 | 00:27:01 WIB
For sometime I was swayed by the society that somehow seems to say 'you have no life if you keep being alone and just play games / work from home'. Now, the more and more introvert articles and people voice out they feeling... the more I know I can give no f. Thanks, for again and again reassuring it is fine to be alone.
Nadine_ | 04 April 2016 | 07:50:29 WIB
I couldn't agree more. I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and currently pursuing my bachelor's degree in California. I wouldn't say that I was a loner during my school years in Jakarta, but i appreciate whenever i got the chance to have some "me time" (i.e. drive around town without any particular destination, walk, eat, and watch a movie alone at the mall). My friends (even my mother!) always comment on my fondness of solitude, and my mom scolded me for "lack of empathy". However, i noticed that in the US, they are more open with people's individual traits, and they respect them. So its always challenging for me whenever i go back home for summer, and gave to brace my self for the different ideals of society.
karmarria | 04 April 2016 | 10:24:50 WIB
It seems like you're reading my mind :)
I like how you frame solitude not as an absence of social interaction, but more as a presence in oneself. I'm looking forward to your next article.
Paramita | 05 April 2016 | 04:51:47 WIB
One of my bestfriend was surprised by my solitude behaviour. She thought that I'm kind of socialite, but if she takes a look closer, I did all my activities alone.
I love to challenge myself. I love to go to art exhibition alone and make friends with stranger there. Sometimes, being surrounded by relatives or friends make me dependent to them. I don't want to act like a damsel in distress.
But don't isolate yourself, just remember, human is homo socius. By being alone, you can check your inner nature and what you really need. I've seen so many person in my life who are afraid of being alone and throw themselves into wrong community.
The biggest challenge by being solitude person is the person usually asking for more understanding but have no mutual understanding with other person.

Great article. Cheers ! ;)
Raina | 07 April 2016 | 10:43:27 WIB
Thank you for sharing "my thoughts" :) It's good to know that I'm not the only one who needs solitude. Yes, need, not want, but need. Sadly, up until today both my parents and my big family members can't understand my need for solitude and think I'm weird, and that my need for solitude is impossible.
thatintrovertedgal | 07 April 2016 | 20:12:37 WIB
At the first years of my life, I hung out around people just like every one else. I've always known that I'm different, like I have different outlook in what I'm doing or I'm interested in things that is considered as 'unique' or word. My friends call me nerds, and I also noticed that I'm easily worn out by 'crowding' or 'gatherings'. Its not that I'm anti-social, or avoiding people(okay, i admit I do sometimes), but people considered me as that. I just--I feel like I'm stating excuses for me being alone. Here in my college, I'm asked to be active in social interactions and I'm just.. there. I'm not passive, really. If things interest me, I may not stop asking questions till they see me as annoying. Like I'm doing now. Sorry, this is a pointless rant, but this is so relatable, welp. Well.. hi. And bye, I guess xD

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