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 outside pressure which is the incubator of the spirit. — Marya Mannes, author and critic.
“Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.” ~ Paul Brunton
There was a time when I wanted to be surrounded by people – a lot of them. I didn’t enjoy my own company so I guess I didn’t want to be alone. But as the years went by, as I learned to make peace with who I am, and as I discovered how to truly love and accept myself, I began to realize that there’s great comfort in solitude. And that in fact, the more time I spend alone with myself, the more I enjoy my own company, and the more love I seem to have, not just for my close friends and family, but for the whole world.
“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.” ~ Hermann Hesse
For me, solitude is freedom – freedom from social norms, freedom from self-imposed limitations, freedom from ignorance, freedom from everything that keeps you from being true to yourself, and freedom from living a life that has no purpose or meaning. The more time I spend in solitude, the more I love myself. The more I love myself, the more I love the people around me. And the more I love the people around me, the better life gets.
Solitude has the power to teach you how to be true to yourself. How to no longer waste your time living someone else’s life and act as if everyone else’s needs are more important than yours. Solitude puts you on a new and magical path where you learn to live your life from a place of truth, love and high integrity. A path where you learn how to love yourself as much as you want the world to love you. A path where you understand that the relationship you have with your Self is sacred! And that is why, “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
A lot of people think that if you love someone, if you care about them, you have to be physically present in their lives. You have to always be near them. But what I realized is that at times, if you love people as much as you say you do, you’ll have to give these people some space. And you’ll have to spend some time away from everything and everyone – to renew and replenish, to strengthen the relationship you have with your Self, to discover more about what your Heart and Soul need from you, and to find the inner strength, courage and confidence to live the life you came here to live.
The relationships you have with the people in your life – children, spouse, friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, etc., they are all important. No doubt about it. But so is the relationship you have with your Self. So is the relationship you have with your Heart and Soul. In fact, the way I see it, the relationship you have with your Self should be the most important relationship in your life. Why? Why? Because only by loving yourself fully and only by being true to yourself can you love and be true to the people around you.
This isn’t about you being selfish. This isn’t about you not caring about other people. No! Nothing like that! In fact this is about you being true to yourself. This is about honoring yourself as much as you want others to honor you. It’s about learning to love, accept and embrace all that you are, so that you can later inspire and empower others, through your own actions and behaviors, to do the same.
Khalil Gibran said it so beautifully: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
You might be a parent, daughter, son, wife or husband, a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend. And even though at times you might be tempted to lose yourself completely in the process of serving and loving the people in your life, you need to remember that before being a parent, daughter, son, wife or husband, a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, etc., you were your own unique and authentic Self!
“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah.” ~ Richard Bach
Your Self is who you are. Your Self is who you were created to be. And your Self is who you should always be!
With all my love,
In today’s constantly connected world, finding solitude has become a lost art. In fact, Western culture tends to equate a desire for solitude with people who are lonely, sad, or have antisocial tendencies. But seeking solitude can actually be quite healthy. In fact, there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone.
Carving out a little solitude can make a world of difference. So go ahead—give yourself a break.
Food, kids, laundry, cleaning, friends, work, bills, relationships, home, car, shower, sex, exercise, hobbies.
We are in constant movement, getting things done, going places, building relationships.
We need to have some downtime:
It’s a challenge to let ourselves slow down. As Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, says, “We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture. Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.” It seems there is always something that needs doing, always someone who needs our attention. “Unfortunately,” Moore says, “we don’t get a lot of support in this culture for doing nothing. If we aren’t accomplishing something, we feel that we’re wasting time.”
Most of us DO have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but if we aren’t accomplishing something, we feel we’re wasting time. Often when we find ourselves with a spare hour, we spend that time doing chores or attending to our relationships.
Many of us feel compelled to measure our success in terms of acquisition and accomplishment. But even women who are unwilling to buy into such a narrow definition of success may feel uncomfortable with the idea of claiming time just for themselves, with no agenda whatsoever. Often when we find ourselves with an empty hour, we spend that time doing chores or attending to our relationships.
If no one’s around, we’ll reach for the phone—or the TV remote or even the vacuum cleaner. We avoid ourselves because we’re afraid of what we might find: a forlorn, flawed someone who’s missing out on life’s party. But solitude and isolation do not go hand in hand. We can retreat from the world for a time without being renounced by it.
Watching my 3-year-old neighbor play outside her house, I marvel at her contentment and self-sufficiency. She is completely absorbed as she plants twigs in an empty flowerpot and chatters to her doll. She’s enjoying her own good company—a knack that, somewhere along the line, so many of us lose.
You get these things when alone:
If we are always focused on external stimulation, or even on our relationships, we miss opportunities for inner growth and renewal. Here’s why it’s important to insist on time alone:
We’re more creative alone. Pulitzer prize–winning writer John Updike, author of 51 books, attributes his astonishing productivity to a schedule that honors empty time. “Ideally,” he explains, “much of my day should be, in a strict sense, idle, for it is often in idle moments that real inspiration comes.”
Solitude can cure what ails you. Several years ago, my best friend became concerned when her left arm and hand went numb. Her doctor proposed a series of tests to rule out a brain tumor, among other possibilities. But first, he suggested, she should spend three days alone, meditating and reflecting on her life. Although she was skeptical, she went to an empty cabin in the woods for the weekend and simply listened to her body, attuning herself to her inner wisdom. “I had been refusing to see that my marriage was really over,” she explained afterward. “I had three children and no money, and I was terrified. But after that weekend alone, I knew the truth. And the numbness eventually went away.”
In solitude, we see more clearly. “We live in an extremely externalized culture,” Moore says. “We are constantly pulled outside ourselves—by other people, by the media, by the demands of daily life. Nothing in our culture or in our education teaches us how to go inward, how to steady the mind and calm our attention. As a consequence, we tend to devote very little time to the life of the soul, the life of the spirit.” We need to balance the pace and intensity of modern life with periods of what poet May Sarton has called “open time, with no obligations except toward the inner world and what is going on there.” Alone—in moments of prayer or meditation, or simply in stillness—we breathe more deeply, see more fully, hear more keenly. We notice more, and in the process, we return to what is sacred.
But consider this. When we are hungry, we get the signal right away, and we pay attention. Thirst is sneakier. By the time our bodies send us in search of water, we are already dehydrated. The same holds true in our thirst for solitude. By the time you begin to crave a holiday on a desert island, chances are your emotional bank balance has already run dry.
So it’s important to learn to create little islands of solitude in your daily life. Solitude is an incredibly powerful happiness-boosting practice; and your health and happiness are your top priorities in life. In solitude, we see clearly. Learning to go inward will steady the mind and calm our attention. We need to balance the pace and intensity of modern life, alone – in moments of prayer or meditation, or simply in stillness – we breathe more deeply, see more fully, hear more keenly.
Learning to meditate daily has been one of the best things I have done for my health and happiness. You MUST make time for yourself to silence the mind, just as you do to exercise or prepare your meals.
Design a life where your happiness is your foundation and a top priority.
Start by taking some time to think through what you really want to make time for. For example, are you trying to fit in some exercise, do you want to to read a little every day, are you looking to unwind with some TV at the end of the night, or do you just want more sleep? Of course, you could have a lot of different answers to this question, but I feel that going through the thought exercise pushes me to identify the specific activities that really help me to recharge my batteries and relax.
Then, find the time to slot it into your calendar. When you plan your week, treat your downtime activities as some of your major to-dos, setting aside time for them in the same way you would set aside time for a big meeting or a project you need to work on. Instead of penciling in an hour of “downtime” on Wednesday night, write “catch up on my favorite blogs with a cup of coffee” or “take a bubble bath.”
I’ve found that by making “me time” a little more actionable, it’s easier to hold yourself accountable to it; it’s hard to notice when you don’t take some time to relax, but pretty obvious when you don’t get through the book chapter you said you were going to read. You have a particular activity to look forward to, and you won’t feel as though you’re wasting time.
A busy schedule shouldn’t be an excuse for not spending time on things that help you unwind. Try scheduling in a few specific activities for yourself this week—and see what a difference it can make.
(Oh, and if you’re really having trouble finding the time, try productivity expert Alex Cavoulacos’ method for tracking and budgeting your time—really looking at how you’re currently spending your minutes and hours should help you identify things you can swap out to create time for yourself.)
Benefits of Seeking Solitude
1. Solitude allows you to reboot yourbrain and unwind. Constantly being “on” doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It’s an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time.
2. Solitude helps to improve concentration and increase productivity. When you remove as many distractions and interruptions as you can from your day, you are better able to concentrate, which will help you get more work done in a shorter amount of time.
3. Solitude gives you an opportunity to discover yourself and find your own voice.When you’re a part of a group, you’re more likely to go along with what the group is doing or thinking, which isn’t always the actions you would take or the decisions you would make if you were on your own.
4. Solitude provides time for you to think deeply. Day to day responsibilities and commitments can make your to-do list seem as if it has no end. This constant motion prevents you from engaging in deep thought, which inhibits creativity and lessens productivity.
5. Solitude helps you work through problems more effectively. It’s hard to think of effective solutions to problems when you’re distracted by incoming information, regardless of whether that information is electronic or human.
6. Solitude can enhance the quality of your relationships with others. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you desire in life, you’re more likely to make better choices about who you want to be around. You also may come to appreciate your relationships more after you’ve spent some time alone.
Despite knowing these benefits, it can be a challenge to find time alone in a world that seems to never sleep. Here are a few ideas to help you find more time to spend with yourself.
♦ Disconnect. Set aside some time each day to unplug from all the ways you connect with others. Turn off your cell phone, Turn off your Internet. Turn off your TV. If you use your computer to create, such as writing, then write without all the bells, dings, and beeps that come along with being connected to the Internet. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can get done when you’re not distracted.
♦ Get Up or Get In Early. Wake up a half hour or an hour earlier than everyone else in your house and use that time to create, produce, problem solve, meditate, or whatever makes you happy. This strategy also works if you can get to work before everyone else arrives and the phones begin to ring.
♦ Close Your Door. It’s simple, but can be very effective. A client who owns a community-based magazine puts a sign on her door when she doesn’t wants alone time. The sign reads “I’m editing or writing. If the police are here, the office is on fire, or George Clooney calls or stops by, you can interrupt me. If not, please hold all questions until my door opens.” She said that she decided to put up the sign after she realized that her presence in the office was a stimulus for questions. “Whenever I was in the office,” she said, “it seemed like there was one question after the next. I was constantly getting interrupted, and it was hard to get my work done. Then I noticed that on the days I was working on a story outside the office, my phone hardly ever rang, even if I was out the whole day. Apparently, whatever questions came up somehow got handled without me. It made me realize that just by being in the office I was a magnet for questions. So I put up the sign and it works like a charm.”
I’d love for you to share with me, how do you make time for yourself in your busy day?