The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit. ~ Marya Mannes, US author
“With external pressures on us ever increasing in this fast paced, 24 hour, interconnected world, we are craving a sense of balance and sureness that we are in charge of our own lives. Otherwise we can feel overwhelmed and overloaded by outside influences.
Today, as never before, we need to find solitude.
Like an emotional and spiritual thermostat, being alone gives us the ability to shape and adjust our lives. It can teach us how to have inner strength and enables us to satisfy our own needs, rather than having to rely on others.
But we’ve become reluctant and wary of seeking out solitude because of our fear of loneliness.
The shadow of loneliness
When most people think of solitude, they automatically imagine the bitter pain of loneliness. To many, the concept of ‘aloneness’ evokes our deepest fears of abandonment and lack of belonging.
Loneliness, however, is not simply a case of being alone – we can be surrounded by crowds of people and still feel lonely – but rather it is the belief that no one cares about what happens to us. It is the distressing realization that we lack close and meaningful contact with others which, in turn, produces feelings of being isolated from them.
It is this basic need to avoid being lonely that pushes us to create countless connections around ourselves. Our computers and cell phones reassure us by providing the tools to stay constantly in touch with each other. Yet these technological props only distract us from listening to our internal voice and increasing our sense of self awareness.
This obsession with staying connected to the outside means we are forgetting how to get in contact with our inner selves.
So why seek solitude?
Unlike the negative state of loneliness, solitude is the positive and constructive experience of engagement with oneself. Solitude is refreshing, a time of being on your own where you voluntarily retreat from the company of other people.
Solitude is being alone without feeling lonely. The difference is in our attitude towards ourself. In solitude we enjoy spending time alone, because we know that we are all the company we need.
Solitude can be used to gain fresh perspectives that allow us to appreciate those things that actually matter. Learning to be at ease in your own company is a skill you can develop which will be of great help throughout your life.
I believe that solitude is a key ingredient to a healthy sense of self. It provides us with a dedicated time to discover and to get to know ourselves better. By repositioning ourselves at the centre of our own lives, we feel that we are back in charge, rather than being buffeted by external forces.
Preparing for solitude
Unfortunately, very few of us can just ‘go’ into solitude – albeit briefly – without some preparation. We have other people and commitments to consider before we are able to arrange quality alone time. Here are a few things you might need to think about if you decide to give solitude a try:
• readying your mind
At first, the notion of being all alone can make you feel a little nervous and uncomfortable. If so, take a moment to ask yourself why this is. It’s helpful to think through the issues you have with being in your own company before you try to create a time of solitude. But don’t let these doubts stop you from going ahead with your plans – you can use your alone time to work through these issues.
• deciding your time
Hopefully you already have some ‘me time’ built into your life, even if it’s just for a few hours every so often. The exact length of time you need really depends on your own situation, but it’s important to organize a dedicated period rather than just hoping you can grab a few hours here and there. As for how long is necessary, the more quality time you can set aside the better, though one hour is better than nothing at all. The crucial factor is how you spend your time in solitude, not the duration of minutes.
• choosing your location
To minimise everyday distractions, it is useful – where possible – to get away from your usual living environment. If you do decide to remain at home or in your own garden, you need to be sure that you can go uninterrupted and undisturbed for a reasonable period. Alternatively, you might visit your local park or forest. What matters is that you find somewhere you can experience meaningful alone time, rather than having to go to a place with no one else around for miles.
• telling other people
The idea of us wanting to spend some time in solitude can be alarming to the central people in our lives if we suddenly announce our intentions. Partners, for example, can feel hurt and threatened if you declare a need for your own space – even if only for a short while. They may take it personally and wonder what it is they’ve done wrong to drive you away. It helps if you’ve previously discussed each other’s views on what it means to be apart and to do your own thing in the context of your own relationship
How to spend your time in solitude
Of course, you can simply ‘go with the flow’ and do whatever you want, but you’ll get the most out of your precious moments alone if you have a rough plan of things you want to achieve. There are a few activities you can try during your time in solitude that will help improve yourself knowledge:
The quietness that comes with solitude provides the perfect backdrop for meditation. This is an ideal way to revitalize our understanding of what makes us who we are. With regular meditation comes the ability to bring a degree of clarity and insight into our lives.
• deep thinking
Strategic thinking lends itself well to periods of solitude. It’s not an easy technique to master, but it is a valuable skill to practice. One way of trying it for yourself is to take a problem and then play around with it in your mind. The aim is to dig deeper into your thoughts that are bubbling below the surface. Go beyond the initial solution you hit upon and come up with the next few possible solutions. Put the problem to the back of your mind and go back to it later, when you repeat the process again. By doing this, you can be reassured that you’ve done your best to get to the heart of the issue and have confidence your answer is well considered.
• creative thoughts
Our creativity comes out when we are in contemplation. We need peace and quiet time to work out solutions, to have ‘Eureka’ moments, and to devise original ways to do tasks. Most earth-shattering discoveries have been made by the solo scientist or when great minds have been alone. You can use your time in solitude to brainstorm ideas as the starting point to unleashing your creativity. Be bold with your thoughts – there’s no one else around to dismiss them.
• get closer to nature
Throughout the ages, humans have escaped from the constraints of society to commune with nature. There is a solitary happiness in appreciating the natural world close up. Do you remember the joy (perhaps fear!) you had when you first saw a bee close up as a child? You’ve probably lost that feeling of amazement in adulthood. Use your solitude to really study the world around you. Touch the grass, smell the flowers, watch the clouds. You’ll soon begin to get a renewed sense of your place in the world. Going for a walk in nature is another great way to connect with ourselves.
If you’ve never purposefully spent quality time on your own, you’ll be surprised at how beneficial it can be to helping you reconnect with yourself – and the world around.”
By Scott McIntyre – see https://www.facebook.com/vividways