If my family ever reads this blog, please know that I love you dearly and I carefully memorize each cherished moment I spend with you.
And yet, this morning, silent in my hotel room outside of suburban Philadelphia, commuters’ headlights floating slowly across wet streets, I feel complete and alone.
You see, it’s been a crazy week for me. Monday, I delivered an executive education program in Miami for a day, rushing home to take my children to school. Tuesday, a trucking association in Nashville, then immediately home to play with my kids before bedtime. Yesterday, Philadelphia to speak for a fintech company. I have this brief moment alone, before my whirl of calls and cars and trains leads me back to Connecticut.
“Alone” in modern usage has come to be associated with the negative. We equate it with lonely. But the word’s Old English origins were actually quite different. Prior to 1300, people used two terms to explain this state: “wholly” and “oneself.” The words were shortened. “Wholly” become “holl” then “all.” “Oneself” became “one,” pronounced like “own” in the older English accent. Around 1300, people combined these two words into “alone.”
So being “alone” is literally to be “wholly oneself.”
Perhaps this is why monks seek solace in monasteries and nature, why Buddha was enlightened “alone” under a tree, why athletes often sit quietly before a game, headphones drowning out the outside world.
Being alone is a key ingredient to creativity. It is the access to knowing yourself.
So I will start redefining the word to myself. I will seek to create more moments to be “wholly myself.” To pause. To quiet my mind. To listen to my thoughts.
As Henry Rollins put it, “Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better.”
When in your hectic search for hyper-productivity will you create moments to be alone?