I am an introvert. What this simply means is that I spend quite a great deal of time hanging out with myself, inside my head. Growing up, it did not mean anything to me. Solitude was life. I read voraciously and spent time holed up inside my room, covered with a duvet and consuming written words. I spent an unusually long period in the bathroom just sitting there and letting my mind wander. It was the best place in the house, still is – my thinking room, where I was alone to my thoughts but which I always had to give up for others to use.
This is not to suggest that at age eight I was a hermit or something. I had my fair share of the social experiences of children’s early lives. Like every other child, I had friends in school and in our quarters. I played all the games of that time, from stick gun movies to building of sand castles and football. I attended birthday parties and left dance floor tales. But as I grew older, I became more shy and withdrawn. This came with the realisation of sorts that other kids my age did not exactly think like me, that I did not seem to flow with the regular customs of the day, that my interests seemed to be at variance with all others.
This made me feel a little abnormal. In our largely extroverted world, being vocal and outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable. Such traits are seen and judged as a mark of happiness, confidence and even leadership. People naturally gravitated towards the extrovert in the group; and with adolescence and the desire to be noticed especially by the girls, the challenge became even more serious. So naturally, I began the struggle to fit in, to be loud and social like everyone else, to fake extroversion.
Research suggests introverts are wired differently. Their make-up means they have an inner-directed mental life – they prefer to be alone and are drained by social contact. There is a close link between introversion and high sensitivity, which includes an appreciation of detail and beauty. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly magazine in which he opined that introverts are “wildly” misunderstood and even oppressed. They are described with words like ‘guarded’, ‘loner’, ‘reserved’, ‘taciturn’, ‘self-contained’, ‘private’ – narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality.
But introverts have one awesome gift which others can only imagine – Solitude. Solitude is beautiful beyond measure and the reason the world is the way it is today, why there is a seeming breakdown of human relationships be they at family level or between countries, why there is a worrying crisis of identity among young people, is that we are not having enough of it any more.
Oscar Wilde opines that it is very healthy to spend time alone. “You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person,” he says.
There’s just something special about being alone and reflecting. Being alone with your own thoughts forces you to look at the greatest as well as darkest parts of you. This is essential in understanding who we are and what our purpose is. In solitude, I discovered happiness and independence and honestly I never felt alone. Ironically I would feel more alone and empty with others around me but when I was finally alone I felt whole. I had my thoughts and ideas and opinions to myself and no one could influence them. This helped me to develop a persona and a strong character while also feeding my interests in creative writing.
The advent of social media and advancement in distractive technologies is slowly killing our time in solitude and by extension our creative spirits. The time that we once spent doing the things we loved – reading, cooking, gardening, or even simply watching sunsets – we now spend scrolling through newsfeeds and gossip. The time we once spent in creative idleness we now spend in what some people have described as ‘destructive idleness.’ Our world is worse for it.
We need more solitude. More introverts if you like. There is nothing shameful about it. It does not make you a loser. Quite on the contrary, it actually makes you a healthy and well-adjusted person because you have the ability and strength to just be and if you are a creative person, it accords you the greater advantage of being perpetually connected with the creative juices, the muse as some will term it. Brenda Ueland once said that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.
Personally, I have learned to take pride in living in the moment and experiencing life fully by myself and in the company of others. Faking extroversion is one very exhausting endeavour which I have since given up on. Over time, I have honed my social behaviour and immersed myself in my family and a closely knit cycle of few but wonderful friends. I am secure in the knowledge that it is a wonderful and sacred thing to be able to take time to be with myself without all the noise and bustle of the surrounding world.
I hope this encourages someone battling with introversion and the pressure to conform to the noise which is in vogue. I also hope it makes others realise the emptiness of their loudness and discover the beauty of solitude.
First Published here