Modern Day Isolation

The Hero’s Journey

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity* and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.” [1]

*probity: def - the quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency.

We can take a step back in history to any great inventor, scientist, philosopher, or poet. They all had periods in their lives where there was a significant amount of isolation. There were alternative periods when these people had a great deal of social feedback which often included intimate mentors.

This narrative is the classic story of The Hero’s Journey. A person ventures off down a path, in this case, the pursuit of knowledge. At some point, the person finds the end of the trail. There are two choices at that point.

The first is to turn back into the open arms of society. The second is to face one’s fears and to step forthrightly into the unknown. By stepping into the unknown and exploring it, one gains new knowledge and wisdom currently unrevealed to the human race.

The Hero then returns to society, integrates that knowledge and creates new and helpful tools. This notion, however, is the long and arduous path. It can also be a lonely road if conducted improperly.

The Internal Experience

“What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.” [2]

When we boil down all sensory inputs, our primary point of observation seems to be a single point from the first person perspective. We are only able to experience our thoughts and feelings.

We cannot directly perceive the thoughts and feeling of others. From the perspective of our intimate awareness, we are alone in the sense that we are the only ones to entirely participate in the experience that we are having.

There are no amount of words that could explain our, complex and internal landscape. So instead we settle for metaphors, similes, and anecdotes to try to simplify our experience enough to relate it to another person’s complex and inner world. We do this with the hope that we will find a common mental space in which we can inhabit with that person for some time.

To get to the point of sharing a common mental space, it takes time, work and effort. Like anything enjoyable in life, it is not an easy or expedient path. Often we must wade at least waist deep through hours or days of superficial interaction and conversation to potentially find a single drop of sustenance.

Many times these more profound conversations can become uncomfortable, can touch on things left in the shadows to be dealt with at a later time, or not at all. These sort of conversations have the potential to get complicated quickly, for many reasons. One of which is not the least that we are human, we are all different, and we are all not necessarily going to get along.

Now perhaps my inner desires for deep and intimate human connection are abnormal, it is my thought that this desire for real and meaningful bonds are within us all. However, we are quick to hide who and what we are. We have many traps set out by life for us to quickly escape when a situation starts to feel the least bit uncomfortable.


We have all developed a mask that we place on when we go into the public domain. This facade is the side of us that we create and place on like a mask because it is what we think that other people will like. This mask is made up of societal and social norms.

We think that the mask will help us to create a bridge between who we are and who society expects us to be. However, by forming this mask of what we think people will like, it becomes a feeble attempt to cover up our weaknesses and insecurities in the hopes of winning approval, aka acceptance and love from others.

This mask has become so convoluted and built up that most people are not even aware that most of their lives are a persona. The persona becomes the mask we create to protect the thing called the ego.


The ego is the weak portion of us that has a strong pull toward power, dominance, and control. This manifestation has become entirely out of control in the modern age. It has become so inflated because of the systems that we have put into place.

The corporate, economic and governmental systems play into this ego and persona game. It becomes dangerous and damaging when the players mistake these games for reality. We have come to the point where the means have become the end goal (money, status, and power).

There is no more regard for the individual. Many of these problems manifest due to the fact that most of society does not have a solid grasp of their inner world. A quote by Carl Jung illustrates this perfectly:

“And indeed it is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow-side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster, and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature.” Pg. 54 - 55 [3]

The Veil

What does all of this have to do with isolation? It is the very foundation of it. If we are wearing a persona that we think will support our fragile ego, then we are creating a costume, a veil, a lie.

We cannot build deep, trusting, supportive and communicative relationships based on fear, lies, or hate. It is only when we can go within ourselves, realize what our persona is, dissolve it and come back into the world that we can truly connect on a human level to the best of our abilities. This exploration includes understanding the shadow self and addressing it on a personal level.

We must acknowledge the shadow side of our nature. We cannot dissolve the shadow, but to fully recognize it for the ugly, and evil thing that it is and to not act upon those animal instincts will be the slow ripple that will change society at large. Instead of turning and facing these more arduous aspects of life we have created several coping mechanisms.

Instant Gratification

“It is, in fact, the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures.” [4]

We have created a society that places more value on someone being on a YouTube video than taking an hour to have a well-connected conversation. The issue with watching YouTube videos, even with high-quality content stems from the fact that the information stream is a one-way street.

We can watch many videos that a single person has created. Perhaps we watch fifty or a hundred videos by one person. We then meet them in real life. This interaction is going to be an extremely unbalanced relationship. We will know a lot about the person who produced the videos; however, they don't know anything about us.

The reasoning behind the YouTube appeal is that we have been taught that instant gratification is much more pleasing than putting in the work for long-term gains. We have been informed that the most straightforward, most accessible, least resistant path is the best.

We are told that life is a series of problems, it is an assault aimed directly at us, and we should take cover from enemy fire. This mindset is all in the name of capitalism. We should buy the next trinket because that is what will make us fulfilled and happy.

So instead of putting people first, as should be the case, we put money, career advancement, bigger houses, etc. first (it should be noted that I am not anti-capitalist by any means, I only hope to aspire to create more mindful capitalism). All of these things are meaningless without a high-quality human connection. This desire for human intimacy is illustrated in matters such as social media; however, it seems like relying solely on technology to connect also misses the mark.


Millennials (myself being one of them) are the first generation to shift from having to know things, to understanding how to find information on the internet. What does this mean? We now have access to far more technology and information than any other generation in history.

A large part of this technology revolves around social networks. Now that we have extremely powerful computers in the palms of our hands these social networks penetrate into the deepest depths of our lives.

The companies that deploy such platforms have tuned everything perfectly to appeal to our human psychology. We end up spending the majority of our day staring at screens between our work, social media and finally some sort of entertainment in the evening.

Now, what does this do for isolation? Being hyper-connected has undoubtedly broadened our reach on social media networks. Some argue that we are more and better connected than before the tech revolution.

However, could it be that as we spend an increasing amount of time gripped by the screen of our smartphone that we are missing the critical intimate human connection? Could it be that these networks have connected us but not brought us together?

Could some of the feelings of isolation come because we are increasingly socializing with our screens and not face-to-face with other human beings? Also, when we do socialize in real life, half of the time we are on the screens of the smartphones we brought because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable, to be vulnerable or to miss out on anything.

We don’t want to have the potential to be alone, or to be isolated however we are not willing to step into the moment and to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. These are the two primary components of intimate human connection.

Being uncomfortable or vulnerable (usually the second leads to the first) is often seen as a weakness. It is, in fact, the opposite. Being vulnerable is the biggest strength that we have. We must practice this like any other skill.

If being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not enough, now these devices bring a firehose of information into the palm of our hand. We cannot process this data fast enough, so we walk around perpetually distracted. We also are continually on the lookout for the next best thing out of fear of missing out.

We live in the technological era. Many things are improving. Human interactions are not. We are perpetually distracted, isolated in plain sight and overwhelmed by the massive streams of input data that we are faced with on a second by second basis.

Hyper-connectivity is one issue but has said nothing about our walk down the road toward pathologizing perfectly normal psychological responses to abnormal situations. This notion simply said, means that there are symptoms in society where the brain is trying to protect itself because it’s experienced an unusual situation (some form of trauma) and the result is labeled as being a disease.

Pathologizing Isolation

“...loneliness is not a function of solitude.” [5]

Something that follows from this age of instant gratification is the pathologizing of isolation. Some isolation for people is not only useful but essential. The dividing line is isolation versus loneliness. How can one be isolated but not lonely?

Loneliness comes from the desire not to be alone when we are. It is a resistance to what is. It is also the fear that when we return to society, our past social bonds will have dissolved. This fear may arise due to a past trauma (Eg. being abandoned as a child). This position of loneliness is when we start to grab and reach out for connections that are not the best for us.

When we are alone with our thoughts, we get to find out who we are without someone telling us who that is. There certainly needs to be a balance. Too much isolation and our social feedback loop become broken, and with too much social interaction we lose ourselves.

It is essential to form deep and intimate human connection through an agreement that a relationship is a long-term commitment to continued work and effort to grow together. Any ties whether it friends, family, intimate partner, etc. It is all the same.

Each relationship is like a plant. We must nurture, feed and water it or it will die. The plant at first is a fragile seed which grows into a delicate flower. The more we work on these relationships, the less nourishment it needs to stay deep and connected over more extended periods of time.

This transition is the morph of a flower into more of a woody, desert dwelling plant. We know the woody plant will be there years later when we come back to it. It takes time, a long time to get to this final stage. That is why it is so important to realize the instant gratification society that we live in (this 15-second approach does not work in relationship building).

We must put continued effort into relationships for a long time until we know that we can go off for quite some time, be isolated and come back to all of the relationships that we have formed and they still be functional. This scenario will help to prevent loneliness through reduction of fear.

What can we do?

The premise of the Hero’s Journey is to be brave and to face the unknown often in isolation. Therefore, in our own story, we must be brave to face our fear of the unknown. It is when we do this that we can open up to be more authentic and vulnerable.

To get to such a point, we must be patient with both ourselves and others. The only thing that we have is time and the most valuable thing that we can do with that time is to form a deep and intimate connection with others.

Connection and immersion must be balanced by periods of solitude or isolation to learn who we are. If we do not orient and align with our deepest selves, we will not follow our true calling in life. This denial only leads to resentment. This disconnected path is right for no one.

Too much isolation, on the other hand, is like a helium-filled balloon when a child lets go of the string. Our psychology can become untethered, and it is tough to catch an escaping balloon.


[1] D. F. Wallace, The Pale King. Penguin UK, 2012.

[2] D. F. Wallace, Oblivion: Stories. Little, Brown, 2004.

[3] C. G. Jung, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7: Two Essays in Analytical Psychology. Princeton University Press, 2014.

[4] R. Greene, Mastery. Penguin, 2012.

[5] D. F. Wallace, “Infinite Jest,” Acad. Med., vol. 86, no. 8, p. 982, 2011.