Honing the Skill of Solitude


This week you may have noticed that I’ve been reflecting on solitude. As I make my way through Solitude by Michael Harris, it’s becoming clear how important solitude is, and how little time we give to it. So I’d like to talk about why that is.

We live in a world now that is defined by connection. Most of us are online, or available, 24 hours a day seven days a week. It’s gotten to a point now that if you don’t pick up your phone or respond to texts within the hour that people begin to worry. We’re expected to be connected constantly. We often find it strange when people choose to do things alone – the cinema, dining alone, solo travelling – all of these things are considered to be unusual. We consider those who spend time alone to be a little strange, but I think they may be the healthiest among us.

Most of us avoid spending time alone. We fill up our hours with other people (which is also essential, by the way). And when we’re not among other people physically, we’re around them digitally. And while being connected is important, being disconnected is also important. But because we’re so used to being surrounded by others, we’ve conditions ourselves to reject being along. We resist time alone. We don’t like it. And this is because we are not used to it, nor do we see the value in it.

But there are many benefits to spending time alone.

For one, we get to know ourselves. Truly. When we spend time alone with out thoughts, reflecting and being introspective, we learn who we are. And when we truly know who we are, it becomes far easier to know what we want from life. It also means that we become aware of any issues that need resolving, so that we won’t be blindsided by anything we’re unaware of.

Solitude also breeds creativity. When we spend time along without connection – no people, no phone – our minds begin to daydream. We make connections where we may not have if we were surrounded by other minds. Often, we hear people cite alone time as ‘boring’. And when we’re bored we reach for phones to distract ourselves. If we could resist this urge to distract ourselves, however, our brains would find ways to keep us entertained, and we often due this through creativity.

Finally, solitude promotes gratitude. When we are surrounded by people all of the time, we begin to take them for granted. But when we spend time alone we naturally become more grateful for the people we have in our lives. We reflect on what these people mean to us. So paradoxically, being on your own will enrich your relationships. It will ensure you know the value of what you have.

And so, this week I’m asking you to make time for solitude. Go for a walk without your phone or earphones. Take a half an hour to write. Do something where you are entirely on your own, without the TV on in the background, without a podcast to fill the silence. It can be daunting at first, especially since we have learned to resist being alone. But try it anyway. See what happens.

Something will happen.

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