With the many rippling effects of the global pandemic, psychologists and healthcare professionals have begun talking frequently about the need for solitude to stay mentally healthy. For some people, however, the word solitude is frightening. It conjures up images of isolation, loneliness, and depression. However, Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and writer who spent years alone, gives another perspective: ‘We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our bosom.”
We don’t need to spend years alone. Solitude isn’t about avoiding being with other people. It’s about being with yourself. The challenges of solitude are about finding balance inside ourselves; being comfortable in our own skins; understanding our own minds and thought processes.
Though the thought of solitude can be intimidating, if we avoid it, we can cause ourselves real problems. Unconscious controls will impact our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions. In solitude you can become energized and creative because when you’re able to disengage from the demands of other people and the world around you, you suddenly free up the mental space to focus on those things that are so important and have been ignored for so long.
Famous inventor Nikola Tesla said: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone – that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
And there’s a problem. We’re never really alone anymore. Our devices continually connect us to the world. Social networks, instant messaging, emails, and so much more are constant. Technology has made us always available, whether or not it is healthy or helpful. Then, we have also seen a far greater emphasis on teams, group collaboration, etc. There’s very little time for or emphasis on solitude.
The power of being alone should not be dismissed. Solitude has much to offer in all facets of our lives and a conscious effort should be made by every individual to experience it regularly. It’s not a quality of the eccentric.
Here are just a few of the many benefits that come from solitude.
Creativity Being alone allows you to be with your own thoughts and discover your own voice. It allows you to dive into ideas, focus on problems, think outside the box, and reach deep within yourself in a way that is not possible around others.
Understanding Solitude provides you with the perfect opportunity to truly understand who you are. Being alone with your thoughts can reveal a lot about you that you would never see otherwise. This understanding of yourself will help you in all areas of your life. The better you know yourself, the better you are able to be a partner, friend, and person in all other relationships. You will work out many of your own issues in your alone time.
Restoration We don’t realize the toll our day may take on us. Our daily commute, sleep routines, distractions, people, and so much more all have an invisible impact on our lives. Over time, this can beat us down. We lose inspiration and motivation. Getting away from it all allows you to break the cycle, recover and refresh.
Productivity We’ve all heard of the great artist or writer running off to the highest mountain or private lake to work, away from all distractions. They do this because it really does work. When you have a task that requires focused attention, being in solitude is the best way to achieve your goals. You don’t have multiple voices crying for your attention.
Clarity This might be the most useful and important benefit of solitude. In solitude you have few less things to worry about. This empowers you to think clearly and to filter and organize priorities according to their level of urgency. You can get clear about what you want and what you don’t.
Self-reliability You will be shocked by the amount of work you can do myself. By challenging your own boundaries and pushing your limits you can easily do things alone that you previously thought needed more people’s involvement.
Solitude is clearly a valuable practice in life. How can we do it? Two basic ways:
1. Cocoon Periods This is exactly what it sounds like. You pretty much need to shut yourself off from the rest of the world when the opportunity arises.
Here are some examples:
Close your office door for an hour.
Go into work earlier so no one is around.
Take lunch breaks alone.
Go on a daily walk by yourself.
Stay up late or wake up early at home.
The point is that you prioritize these opportunities for some time to be with yourself. A major part of this is turning off technology. While we naturally have moments of solitude throughout a day, they are often consumed by our devices. So for this to truly work, you have to remove them from the equation.
2. Run Away The second is only more fun and more beneficial. Get away from it all. Instead of just shutting yourself off from everyone, just put some distance between you and them. Take a road trip, go on vacation, take a hike, go up to the mountains, or camp by the lake. In this case, you’re just trying to get away from civilization.
If you’re able to do this, make it worth your while:
Give yourself enough time. If you’re going to go away, make it count.
Go somewhere calming; let your mind wonder and be free.
Leave the technology behind.
The trip should primarily be about being alone. Don’t set huge expectations that you’re going to have the next big idea or write an entire book or figure out your entire life. You might accomplish these things, but the real value is in the practice not the outcome.
In reality, you can find solitude anywhere, you just have to make the extra effort to do so. By paying attention and making the most of the lulls in your day, you can find solitude daily.