There’s an article in today’s Boston Globe about the lengths people will go to avoid being alone with their thoughts. During a part of the study, two-thirds of men and a quarter of the women actually chose a painful shock over having no outside stimulation. The researchers concluded, after several experiments, that most people loathe having even ten minutes of quiet time without distractions.
Timothy Wilson, the psychologist who led the study, wonders if studying people who regularly meditate would show different results. I hope he continues the study, as I think it is an important one in regards to human nature and happiness. My thought is that yes, people who meditate will indeed rate the experience of solitude as positive, rather than negative. I think the reason is twofold.
Everyone is subject to some uncomfortable thoughts now and then, but those who meditate have stopped trying to suppress these disturbances. Long term meditators, anyway, have let them surface, faced them, healed them, and let them go. Avoiding our thoughts, on the other hand, we can distract ourselves into feeling okay. I once read a quote (I don’t recall the author), that I thought was a simple yet brilliant summary of this: By trying to avoid feeling bad, we end up feeling mediocre. Once you’ve committed to meditation, you’ve stopped running from yourself. Grief, regret, anguish, stagnation, if followed to their source, will eventually dissipate, and there is a lot of peace and joy to be had afterwards. It also makes room to guides one’s own thoughts in a chosen direction, and there is power in that.
The second reason I think that people who meditate are happy to sit in seclusion, is that they have practice being alone without actually thinking. When we are free from thinking, we are truly present in the moment. There is room for inspiration, clarity and insight to slip in. When you observe your thoughts, you can then let them come and go without getting too carried away by them. When you let your thoughts go completely for a period of time, you are in the blissful state of meditation. Why would anyone want to avoid this? Experienced meditators seek this out.
In our modern day society, there is absolutely no reason why we have to be still and alone with ourselves for any length of time. It seems that no matter where we are, we have distraction at our fingertips. Entertainment, information, technology- we can take it all in at every second of every day if we so desire. So if most people are more comfortable not being left alone, why should they ever fly solo, unencumbered by anything to do? My unofficial study says they should try it anyway, because facing oneself is the essence of freedom.