Six Secrets of Solitude
Essential to human happiness and survival is the need for meaningful relationships and time alone. Nature has given our "aloneness" a high priority as observed in our sleep cycles ensuring at least a few hours of precious stillness at night. Asleep, we are free to dream, explore and renew our mental and physical selves. Asleep, we are no longer distracted by the endless chatter of life, the cell phones, computers, televisions and people demanding our time and attention. Is sleeping the only hours of your day in quiet peace? Why? Although sleep allows us rest and time alone, it doesn't contribute to the most important components of stillness, self-examination and reflection.
Solitude is Not Loneliness
Loneliness effects millions and millions of people all over the world. Most surprisingly loneliness has little to do with being alone or solitary. Right now, there are men, women and children who feel lonely within their own homes, families, schools, offices and communities. Lack of deep connections, love and understanding leads to our feelings of loneliness. The state of loneliness is malleable, changing, moving like the wind within all human beings over time. Loneliness differs from isolation and alienation. Alienation, the self-pitying "forever alone" attitude is an uncomfortable agitated and grasping state. Loneliness and alienation appear to be against our will and we seem to fight being alone at all costs where solitude is accepted and embraced.
Solitude is providing yourself with the space from which stillness and clarity can emerge. We have to work at being comfortable with our solitary state just as much as we work on our meaningful relationships with others. Self- actualization doesn't magically happen from being alone any more than putting a book under your pillow will allow you to absorb knowledge. We have to put in effort to be comfortable being alone, and loneliness is one of many obstacles that will arise along a personal journey.
We are born alone. We will die alone. We share our lives with children, friends, lovers and spouses whom we love yet desperately fear losing or leaving behind. The reality is, it will happen. We all depend on one another to define us, protect our sense of identity, our sense of ego that when we find ourselves truly alone we become disoriented or even frightened.
“When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself”
― Lao Tzu
Solitude and Restoration
One of the of the greatest mental and physical benefits of solitude is recharging our batteries. Do you drink coffee? Do you take vitamins? We can't expect to work and run errands all day without breakfast or snacks to fuel our bodies. We can't drive to work on gas fumes. How is it possible to talk on your cell phone or type on your Wi-Fi laptop without recharging batteries? We demand limitless attention, production and energy from our mind, body as well as from other human beings. Why do we neglect to recharge the power source necessary to keep us functioning at optimal performance levels? Put yourself in "time out" and renew your source of energy.
Solitude and Listening
Listening is a skill we are in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload." writes Seth S. Horowitz, Ph.D. a neuroscientist whose work in comparative and human hearing, balance and sleep research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and NASA.
In a world of wonderful high tech advances and instant communication, no one appears to be listening or hearing each other effectively at all. Have we forgotten how to listen? Effective listening requires attention. Listening requires our focus on the speaker. When we are unable to focus our attention on one task our minds turn to our self-to me, me, me again. We are only listening to the mental dialogue in our heads. "What should I make for dinner? Oh, I hope traffic's not bad on the way home. Is there a good movie on television tonight? Did I check my email this afternoon?" Our inner chatter is endless and prevents us from placing our full attention on the person speaking. Our thoughts are like clouds. Imagine each thought cloud that appears in your mind while you are having a conversation. Learn to recognize and acknowledge your thought clouds, let them float past and shift your attention back to the speaker.
Solitude not only allows us a brief respite from the noise and demands of daily existence, it allows us the opportunity to focus our attention on listening to our inner voice. One thing constant stimulation and multi-tasking is taking away from future generations is the ability to focus. Being present is an important component of focus. How many times have we taken a cell phone photo of an event we are supposed to be enjoying in the moment? Are we listening to our friends excited comments about a concert or just typing highlights of a conversation on social media? When we practice our ability to focus on any task, we develop the ability to focus on hearing what others are saying. Solitude allows us to begin with listening to ourselves.
Solitude and Creativity
Listening to our own inner voice is the basis of true creativity. As children and even more so in adulthood we've been scolded, coerced, poked and prodded to "play with others", believe without question " there is no I in team ", " or stripped of our individuality to " be a team player". Those concepts are important in their own time and place. However, only in solitude does our creative insight begin to flourish. When our minds are quiet and free from the influence of others biases, prejudices and opinions our own ideas blossom. Creativity takes time. Solitude gives us the space to be at peace and create.
“One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”- Carl Sandburg – American writer and editor, best known for his poetry.
A Modern Day Dilemma- The Impact of Social Distractions
Solitude and Deeper Connections
Solitude is like a holiday for the soul. Imagine how we feel after returning from a vacation. If it was a good respite we feel renewed and energized. We are likely to feel more content and less frazzled. Retreats, holidays, "me time" have only recently been recognized in Western society as essential for over all health and well being. It's difficult to be happy, healthy, helpful and productive when we're constantly attending to the needs and demands of every one at home or in our career. When we allow our friends, family, spouses, children and most importantly ourselves to go away for awhile, whether that entails closing a bedroom door or seeking adventure in another country, we are honoring our shared humanity. The ability to let go of our control over others, to let them be, forges a deeper loving bond. We are being respectful of another persons right to enjoyment, privacy, peace and quiet. Think of it as giving someone a gift greater than money or material possessions, a gift that comes back to you a thousand fold.
Do you schedule a time for solitude?
Solitude and the Brain
As strange as it may sound, solitude is uncomfortable and scary for many people. The fear of solitude or being alone may stem from our childhood fears of abandonment. We may feel as if we must be in constant contact with others or something "bad" may happen. The fact is all humans need solitude to thrive. We are physiologically wired to survive being alone. It may be frightening and unimaginable to be alone but we are equipped with incredible coping skills.
The brain requires rest for optimal processing. The brain loves solitude. In our world of overstimulation, our brains are constantly in overactive mode. Solitude allows our minds to detach from all the endless noise. This detachment creates a sense of calm within our bodies and essential organs. What benefits do we derive from a state of peace and calm? A quiet state of mind lowers blood pressure, supports a healthy immune system and ultimately leaves us less stressed. Solitude acts as jumper cables to the parasympathetic nervous system. When you’re at peace your muscles relax and your heart rate slows. The calmness we feel in solitude is the anti-adrenaline system that kicks on when there’s no longer a need for the fight-or-flight response.
Transforming Solitude- UNPLUG
Solitude and Spirituality
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
In a world where we find ourselves pressured to make connections, build business, romantic and personal relationships, spending time alone may appear selfish or look a little suspect. On the human spectrum of aloneness, those who prefer solitude and privacy may be seen as eccentric at best and anti-social and defective at worst. Solitude is presumed for those suffering some kind of ailment or disorder rather than those who aspire to alleviate suffering and bring happiness to themselves and others. In fact, balancing community and quiet introspection has been lost in modern times. Attending church, temple, mosque or other quiet, peaceful structures was originally intended to bring a sense of stillness and solitude to the practitioner of their faith. Now once sacred spaces have become a social hub for potential spouses, baby- sitting services and community gossip.
The profound link between spirituality and solitude has become corrupted by our own lack of personal introspection. By denying or neglecting to examine our own faults, mistakes and weaknesses we can continue to blame the world and others for our own unhappiness. We remain unfulfilled with our choice of careers, marriages, families and possessions because we cannot face looking inward at the true source of our pain and fear.
Solitude is not a negative discipline but allows us to remove distractions so that when we do interact in the world we can maintain a sense of peace. We develop deeper meaningful relationships by honoring the need for peace in others. The wise believe prayer is talking to the Divine and meditation is listening to the inner voice. Contemplation is discovery and understanding of ourselves. These spiritual actions require stillness. We are made whole by our solitude.