published in Health, Life Balance by Maryanne | September 10, 2014

Sweet Solitude

Why Time Alone to Quiet the Soul is So Important

 

MA's shadow on beach

 “If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it.”

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

And that goes for men, too. For solitude, I suspect, is a human need versus a want.

I’ve been hearing from both male and female friends lately about how much they crave time alone – to just sit quietly, even for a few minutes, to collect their thoughts without being talked to, texted at, questioned, interrupted, etc..

At first it seemed strange to me, since I now spend a significant part of my day in sweet solitude (I live alone, am a writer and work from home – do the math), that what many people crave isn’t chocolate, booze or sex but rather simply to be left alone 🙂

Then I realized that over the years, solitude has become as essential to me as breathing. If I don’t have at least half an hour in the morning to sip my coffee, reflect on the day before, plan the day ahead, dream about the future, give thanks for the blessings in my life, send out a prayer for those in need and then just sit quietly for a few moments – not thinking about anything at all – then my day tends to spiral out of control pretty quickly.

“When our minds are calm,” explains Calgary author Elisabeth Fayt, in her excellent book, Paving it Forward; The Energy of Creating, “little disturbances in the day are like small pebbles causing mere ripples in the lake of our consciousness. When our minds are restless, little disturbances are like boulders causing great waves in our consciousness.”

“From a calm centre,” Fayt continues, “we make better decisions.”

“Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”

–       Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

So why is it so difficult for people to find time – make time – for solitude?

I’m sure there are many reasons but I suspect a common one is guilt. In fact, two friends (who don’t know each other) told me recently that they do, indeed, feel guilty if they actually stop whatever work they are doing in the middle of a, God forbid, Tuesday afternoon just to sit down with a cup of tea to read a magazine article – or simply stare out the window.

Why? Because that’s not productive.

Well, contrary to what our Puritan work ethic might have us believe, I beg to differ. Simply stopping for ten minutes to quiet one’s soul just might be the most productive thing we do in a day.

“Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.”

–       Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

In her delightful 1955 book, Gift from the Sea, author Anne Morrow Lindbergh suggests that the end to which we are all striving is inner stillness: “To be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations and activities.”

“But instead of stilling the centre,” Lindbergh observes, “we add more centrifugal activities to our lives.”

Sound familiar? Gee, let’s see how much more I can accomplish in a day!

“The problem,” Lindbergh writes, “is how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center. Solitude alone is not the answer, only a step towards it. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of activities.”

But in order to be able to still the soul in the midst of activities, we first need to master stilling the old soul during solitude, while doing not too much at all.

To this end, Lindbergh suggests solitary activities that oppose the centrifugal forces: “Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself…what matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.”

Ahhh…but therein lies what I suspect might be another significant reason why people don’t stop and just sit quietly – without TV or movies or their phones or computers to distract them. For being “inwardly attentive” can be rather daunting indeed. What if we don’t like what we see?

What if some annoying little thought, such as “You need to go back to school so that you can get a job you love,” or “You need to tell your family that you need more help around the house,” bubbles to the surface?

still water

“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”

– Taoist Proverb

Sometimes it seems safer to just keep moving – and fair enough, sometimes it is. But sometimes the wisest thing to do is simply stop…and come what may.

red roses

One of my personal favourite centering activities, during the summer, is puttering in my garden, especially pruning flowers. For some reason, this calms me right down. Some people prefer more formal meditation. A friend of mine finds kayaking very calm-inducing. Another friend loves to watch waves gently lapping against the shore.

On that note, Lindbergh explains beautifully the benefits of time spent in solitude: “Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if one did actually lose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again – complete and round…more whole, even, than before, when the other people had pieces of one.”

So there you have it: if you won’t make time for solitude for your own benefit, then perhaps do so because in the long run, you will have more to give to those you love.

As for me? Well, after writing this blog I’m a bit worried. If I spend anymore time in silent solitude during a day, I’d be a hermit! So if I don’t crave solitude, then that must mean I crave…uh, oh 🙁

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. Maryanne also writes screenplays and play scripts, including the play, Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer Dickey on September 10th, 2014 at 8:21 pm:

    For me, the best thing is time spent with my miniature schnauzer, Dusty! Dogs are even better than being alone.

  2. Jennifer Barclay on September 10th, 2014 at 9:12 pm:

    Loved this post, Maryanne! An essential reminder.

  3. Joyce vD George on September 10th, 2014 at 10:06 pm:

    Great blog once again. I too need more solitude . But I don’t get it at working teaching grade ones all day, at home with teenagers and Darryl home contracting now. Then mom and her feeling miserable because she is too alone and then the visits to Dad. Oh ya I have finally started swimming again but since school started I only get there on Sundays , before my mom expects me to go visit my dad with her. I would never miss it . But one day I will have to learn to be by myself and enjoy the solitude.

  4. Maryanne on September 11th, 2014 at 1:30 pm:

    Hi Joyce! Yes you will 🙂

    Sometimes the most important time for solitude is when we don’t think we have the time for solitude!

    Take care,
    love ma

  5. Maryanne on September 11th, 2014 at 1:31 pm:

    Glad you liked the blog, Jennifer!
    Loved seeing your beautiful pics on FB 🙂
    Maryanne

  6. Maryanne on September 11th, 2014 at 1:32 pm:

    Agreed! I sure miss spending time with my Soda 🙁

    Enjoy Dusty, Jennifer!
    Maryanne

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