Solitude isn’t sexy. We may crave alone time in chaotic moments, but the intentional habit of carving out long stretches of time by yourself is a bit foreign in our world of constant stimulation and busyness. Most of us leave the practice to monks and poets. An indulgence we tell ourselves we don’t need.
But disliking solitude is kind of like being afraid of the dark. We won’t admit it, but in the same way run up the last few stairs of the basement, a lot of us casually craft our lives to avoid aloneness at all costs.
Maybe now more than ever, we need people who are willing to cultivate silence in their lives. I think most people have little to no experience with the practice, which makes the idea of practicing it daunting to say the least! Which is why I’ve created a guidebook to help demystify it and share tangible, realistic ways to cultivate more quiet in your life.
Included in this guide:
- What solitude is (and what it isn’t)
- What we gain when we cultivate more solitude in our lives
- Practical ways to create more margin in daily life
- A complete guide to a weekend solitude retreat
My intention in writing this is to provide tangible ways to implement this practice. I’ve tried to make this really practical, but please know this isn’t prescriptive. I’m writing from the experiences I’ve had and insights I’ve gleaned. But like most practices, solitude is a deeply personal and unique experience for everyone.
I find solitude to be helpful when I feel directionless. When I’m creatively blocked. After a heartbreak or when I have a big decision to make. Solitude is for anyone interested in pursuing wholeheartedness in any capacity. But I specifically wanted to address three people before I begin:
For those reeling in the wake of the political climate,
I think a lot of us have been feeling a variety of bewilderment, deep concern, rage, and hopelessness, especially in the last few months. We need people to respond to injustice. But activism that springs out of reactionary anger is not sustainable. Activist and pastor Anthony Smith said, “before we can meaningfully play some part in addressing the violence my our own community, I must first seriously address the violence within my own soul.”
If we don’t do this internal work, our best efforts only end up reflecting the very thing you’re trying to fight.
For the frazzled,
I know, I know. You’re probably muttering “must be nice…” when someone suggests that you make solitude a part of your rhythm. I get it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a choice in certain seasons of life.
I want you to know this invitation is extended to you, even now. If you’re a mom of young ones, or work just got crazy busy, you probably need solitude more than anyone. You may have to get creative about the how and the when, but what feels like a luxury is actually a necessity. Leaving things undone for a little while to tend to your soul is so good for you.
For the extroverts,
I’m beginning to suspect that we hide behind the labels we give ourselves. Maybe “I don’t do alone time well because I’m an extrovert” is code for “I avoid being alone because I don’t want to face the demons that await me in silence.” (Equally, I suspect us introverts claim of social exhaustion has more to do with our dysfunctional mask wearing than personality traits) It may not be your natural tendency, but I dare you to give solitude a try. I promise, there are beautiful things waiting on the other side of the silence.
In the midst of a world of incessant noise, we intuitively know we need to cultivate quiet in our lives. The gifts waiting inside quiet moments carved out are many.
To reclaim our humanity.
In a culture that worships at the altar of productivity and surrounded by people who wear exhaustion as a badge of honor, choosing solitude is an act of rebellion. It’s reclaiming the territory of what it means to be human. It’s owning up to our frailty and making peace with our limits. Solitude ushers us into the process of unlearning the self-protective “adult” habits that aren’t actually serving us. It’s trading in the forceful hustling, and constant pushing for a gentle wayfinding and sustainable rhythm.
To encounter unprocessed emotions.
Perhaps the main reason we avoid solitude is that we fear what awaits us. The grief we’ve been dismissing. The anger we’ve been stuffing down. The disillusioned doubts and undignified disappointment that we hope will just go away if we ignore it long enough. Uncomfortable though it is, the best way to move through complex emotions is through them. Not acknowledging undesirable emotions actually enslaves us. Pushing into the discomfort can lead to healing, clarity, and true healing. It IS worth it.
To be more fully present.
The true intention of solitude is not selfish isolation from the world. Richard Foster says “the fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts.” And Thomas Merton observed that “it is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them… Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”
If this is something you’re curious about, please download my free Cultivating Quiet Solitude Guide.