For some time now, I have been wanting to write a post on the value of solitude.
The word 'solitude' in itself, when spoken aloud, can strike fear into the hearts of those who see 'aloneness' as something to be avoided. I get this. I spent the majority of my life making sure I was never alone, even if the company I kept had nothing to offer me but heartache.
Fast forward 'the majority of my life' and it's a very different story today.
My life is rich in so many ways, the greatest of these riches being the relationship I share with the significant others in my life, my loyal and loving family, my partner, who I adore, and my 'tribe' of beautiful and trusted friends. Add to this my long list of elderly clients who are always up for a chat over a cup of tea sharing stories and a hug or two. With so many beautiful people in my life, I have no reason to ever be alone.
I crave solitude. I have to have it. The ongoing relationship with myself has become central to every other aspect of my life, something that took me years to understand. The years I spent alone after 20 something years of marriage were probably the most formative years for me as far as my spiritual growth was concerned, and I learnt things about my inner self that literally brought me to my knees. Some of what I learned was beneficial and some, quite frankly, was bloody awful. I am now very conscious of my need to intersperse deliberate 'dates' with myself amongst my time with others. I use this time for reflection and self improvement but very often, I use this time to simply 'be.'
I recently revisited a piece of writing by one of my favourite authors, Leo Babauta titled The Lost Art of Solitude, which is a beautiful summary of everything I've come to realise about aloneness and its benefits in my life. I have posted it for you below as I truly believe it's worth sharing.
The Lost Art of Solitude by Leo Babauta.
“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are, for the most part, more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.”
~Henry David Thoreau~
You don’t need to be a monk to find solitude, nor do you need to be a hermit to enjoy it.
Solitude is a lost art in these days of ultra-connectedness, and while I don’t bemoan the beauty of this global community, I do think there’s a need to step back from it on a regular basis.
Some of my favorite activities include sitting in front of the ocean, still, contemplating … walking, alone with my thoughts … disconnecting and just writing … finding quiet with a good novel … taking a solitary bath.
Don’t get me wrong: I love being with loved ones, and walking with a friend or watching the sunset with my wife or reading a book with my child are also among my absolute favorite things in the world.
But solitude, in these days as much as ever, is an absolute necessity.
The Benefits of Solitude
The best art is created in solitude, for good reason: it’s only when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, soul. Some of the most famous philosophers took daily walks, and it was on these walks that they found their deepest thoughts.
My best writing, and, in fact, act the best of anything I’ve done, was created in solitude.
Just a few of the benefits I’ve found from solitude:
time for thought
in being alone, we get to know ourselves
we face our demons, and deal with them
space to create
space to unwind, and find peace
time to reflect on what we’ve done, and learn from it
isolation from the influences of other helps us to find our own voice
quiet helps us to appreciate the smaller things that get lost in the roar
There are many more benefits, but that’s to get you started. The real benefits of solitude cannot be expressed through words, but must be found in doing.
How to Find Solitude
You start by disconnecting.
Take every means of connecting with others, and sever them. Disconnect from email, from Facebook and Twitter and MySpace, from forums and social media, from instant messaging and Skype, from news websites and blogs. Turn off your mobile device and phones.
Turn off the computer … unless you’re going to use the computer to create, in which case, shut off the Internet, close your browser, and shut down every other program used to connect with others.
The next steps depend on which of two strategies you use:
1. Holing yourself up. This can be done in your office, by shutting the door and/or using headphones and the calming music of your choice. If possible, let coworkers know you can’t be disturbed during a certain block of your day. Or it can be done at home, by finding a quiet space, shutting the door if you can, or using headphones. The key is to find a way to shut out the outside world, including co-workers or those who live with you.
2. Getting away. My favorite way to find solitude, actually. Get out the door, and enjoy the outdoors. Take a walk, find a park or a beach or a mountain, find a quiet coffee shop, find a shady spot to rest. People watch, or nature watch.
Try taking a quiet, relaxing bath from time to time.
Curl up with a good novel.
If you’re married with kids, ask your spouse to give you some time off to be alone, and then return the favor. Make it a regular swap.
Take a walk every day.
Get into work earlier, and work in quiet.
Have a nice cup of tea.
Try a regular time each day when you’re disconnected.
Consider limiting the stream.
Trouble with self-control? Use one of these tools.
No time for solitude? Try these tips.
Try sitting still, and focusing on your breath as it comes in and goes out. As your mind wanders to thoughts of the past and future, make a patient note of that, then gently return to your breathing.
“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”