It paralyzes me how easy it is to be almost completely invisible in a large metropolis. I took my headphones out and strolled a few blocks and noticed almost every person with a lit-screen phone in their hand in docile anticipation of some sort of news and perhaps every second person’s gaze turned down to receive it. I navigated as if by dance, sinewing as a snake through the crowd of semi-present men and women. No one noticed me or my cognac bowler hat with the red feather. No one made eye contact. I was left completely undisturbed.
It would be pharisaic to say, "Can these people not be torn from their devices?", but I can’t help to acknowledge that my anachronistic thoughts turned to the joy of silent moments of tranquility. I wanted to share, but the moment was as fleeting and non-transmissible as a stroke of love.
Reflecting on the causes of my own dissociative moments, two afflictions came to mind; the cult of busyness and the anxiety of being alone. One thing to note is that they are symbiotic and compound each-other. Being busy is a misleading indicator of social standing. If one is busy, they themselves believe that they are achieving something, thus upping their self-esteem and subsequently creating a formidable illusion of well-being. Who doesn’t want to feel important? And so even I bring up my phone to my pupils to see what swipes will give me the craved satisfaction. (Tim Kreider wrote a fantastic essay on the subject that can be listened to on Youtube or streamed here )
But I think what the people this evening were alleviating was a fear of being alone, or at least what I saw were the remnants of that fear manifesting into a daily habit. In a society that esteems autonomy above all else, it’s fascinating how many people are afraid of solitude. If we are to seek fulfillment, happiness, to act on our own feelings, how are we to do it if not alone? Shall we drink someone else’s cool-aid, horchata, kvas, coca-cola on how we should be happy?
Maybe I was particularly sensitive this evening because I was headed for a very personal and solitary act; writing. Or maybe I was genuinely concerned that those around me should be more conscientious of their company, and if alone, of their surroundings (including my damn red feather in my hat). There is no insurance policy for loneliness, no number of Facebook friends, instagram followers, or financial provisions, but one can learn to enjoy their own company and allow for a personal growth that will surely attract others, perhaps even fortune.
Sara Maitland in "How to Be Alone" enumerates the rewards to be reaped if one can develop a true capacity to enjoy aloneness:
1 A deeper consciousness of oneself
2 A deeper attunement to nature
3 A deeper relationship with the transcendent (the numinous, the divine, the spiritual)
4 Increased creativity
5 An increased sense of freedom
This is a fine reminder for me to reinstate my "technology-free Sundays". Just imagine that, being left alone with your own senses or perhaps the company of another human being WITHOUT access to the internet :)