Can You Handle Living Alone For a Long Time?

movie poster of shawshank redemption movie

A brilliant man seems to be drawing an intricate map of something on a paper that he dutifully conceals in a bible; another one has it drawn all over his body, cleverly disguised. Another one, well, he just seems to be pounding on a decrepit-looking wall with a sledgehammer, and the uniformed people around him are all asleep or maybe heavily sedated. 

I just gave the last one away, didn’t I? 

These individuals are all hell-bent on achieving the same goal – breaking out of prison!

One of my all-time favorite prison break movies is Shawshank Redemption, and I just love the meticulous Andy Dufresne, the prison break they showed in the movie is one of the best I have ever seen. And it very well might be the best. 

Tim Robbins (left) plays the character of Andy Dufresnse in the movie.

Although the prison break scene is important, a few other scenes in the movie have piqued my curiosity more.

In one scene, he hijacks the radio room and plays classical music, smiling contentedly while ignoring the guards pounding on the glass door and attempting to break in. Also, the one where the warden puts him in solitary confinement more than once.

Latter is the one that I am going to focus on.

After his first solitary confinement, he leaves his friends somewhat puzzled when he looks upbeat. He wasn’t supposed to. Who would, in their minds, come back refreshed from a seemingly maddening absolute solitude? 

It was not normal, was it?

As far as I can remember, I must have heard the phrase ‘Man is a social animal’ at least a hundred times. It’s only very recently that I learned that it was Aristotle that once said, “Man is by nature a social animal, an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes an individual”.

After all, a lot of human happiness and sorrow are derived from associating with others.

In this day and age of overstimulation, and over-engagement, solitude gets a lot of bad rap. People dread going to restaurants alone for fear of being judged.

What would the hotel staff think?

What would the people sitting next to me think?

Why is everyone looking at me in pity?

Doesn’t matter one bit if all those people I worry about are strangers. The thought of being by ourselves is just too scary. There is even a phobia: autophobia (I’m not kidding!). Like every other phobia, it is irrational.

Solitude, I have figured over time, isn’t that bad. I have found it quite liberating. 

Although unplanned, my journey was a super basic two-step exercise, in hindsight.

Step 1: Going to a restaurant alone.

The initial few solo trips to my favorite Chinese restaurant were quite awkward for me, ‘A table for one doesn’t have a nice ring to it,’ which was an excuse I gave to myself for not going. I decided to ‘be a woman’ and do something about it. I initially carried a fascinating fiction book as a crutch, so when I was immersed in reading it, I wouldn’t care what people around me thought. 

But I realized that with each subsequent trip, I didn’t have to depend on the book anymore. I was becoming increasingly confident with my request for a ‘table for one,’ asking for things I wanted to eat and eating like it was no one’s business.

Step 2: Designate a day of the week as a No-cellphone day.

I would designate either Saturday or Sunday as a no-cellphone day; I would behave as if my cell didn’t exist. 

It was a bit difficult initially. For the first few weekends, I locked my cell in a suitcase and gave my amiable neighbor the key. This would make accessing it difficult even if I had the urge to have a peek. 

Slowly, I started to enjoy these no-disturbance weekends and eventually relieved my neighbor of the key-safekeeping duties.

Step 3: Meditation retreats

I rolled my eyes when a friend suggested this to me once, this was not for me, I said. Eventually, I changed my stance and decided to give it a chance. Zeroed in on a weekend retreat. 

The first thing they did upon admission was to have me deposit my cell. ‘Sucka!!! I had two years of practice. It was a hit from the get-go; the retreat was in nature, the instructor was super calm, and she didn’t have us wake up at 4 am to enjoy the true meditation experience. 

The initial few hours were tough; in silent meditation, my mind drifted to every possible realm.

Did I bring my house keys?

Did I forget to turn the tap and stove off at home?

Did I turn off the humidifier?

Did I take the garbage out?

Did I make the credit card payment? Am I overdue?

Did I let Dad know I was going? I hope Mom has informed him.

This place is so beautiful, I love nature; one day, I will be able to afford a house here, maybe? I wonder what the downpayment would be?

This top itches at the shoulder.

Call it my basic brain, or my mundane life, the random thoughts first slowed down and then almost stopped. That state of being and not being, at the same time was immensely calming. A few minutes of that floating feeling was a high like nothing I had experienced before. Like all good things, this feeling was interrupted too.

By an image of Shawshank Redemption’s Andy Dufresne stepping out of this solitary cell, smiling.

andy dufresne from the movie shawshank redemption in the climax of the movie, escaping the
That scene from Shawshank Redemption

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