Why you need solitude

Updated: May 9, 2019

Solitude is a conduit to achieve peace of mind and rest; a place where you can be your own companion and think about the world around you and who you are.

According to the Stoic philosophers, to be truly at peace you need to seek out solitary space where your senses can rest. Marcus Aurelius and Roman philosopher and playwright, Seneca, believed that serenity could only really be achieved when all stimulations had been removed. Although anachronistic, they would undoubtedly urge you to step away from technology, particularly your smart phone. Solitude, it would seem, is a conduit to achieve peace of mind and rest; a place where you can be your own companion and think about the world around you and who you are. Aurelius wrote “Nowhere you can go is more peaceful, more free of interruptions, than your own soul. Retreat to consult your own soul and then return to face what awaits you.”

Solitude should not be confused with loneliness. The latter can be described as the pain of being alone, whereas the former is the joy of being alone. You should not fear time without others, instead you should make time for solitude in each day. Do you enjoy our own company? Do you fear time alone just with your own thoughts? If you are in a place where you do not like or love yourself, are you worried about spending time alone? Does spending time alone make you feel weird, lonely or unpopular? Do you fill up every spare moment with activities and plans to avoid doing ‘nothing.

German-born Jewish-American political theorist, Hannah Arendt who escaped Germany during the Holocaust said that “Solitude is the human condition in which I keep myself company”. Henry David Thoreau, American author and philosopher stated that he loved to be alone, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Instead of fearing time alone, you should embrace it. You need to make friends with yourself; love yourself and allow your mind to slow and rest. In these daily moments of solitude, which could be a matter of five or ten minutes in the bath, while travelling solo on the bus, or just sitting alone on a park bench during your lunch break, you should give yourself permission to think alone, without the distraction of others and/or technology.

Our truest and most genuine friend is ourselves. Why then do we not give that friend time and space? Why do we make so much time and space in our life for people and things that are not genuine and create stress? Why do we devote so much time to pursuits, like social media that inspire negative feelings of inadequacy? Perhaps we should stop craving the artificial companionship of our technology?

I recently came across a book written by essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer entitled, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. Although the subtitle feels self-defeating, Iyer’s message is interesting. He points to the disturbing nature of the constant stream of information we must contend with and sift through today. He advocates a sense of stillness rather than a state of striving. Although he writes that stepping out of the fray of modern life takes courage it is worth it to achieve a state of calmness and clarity in a place he dubs ‘Nowhere’. It sounds blissful, doesn’t it?

Take some solitary time today to help you figure out your genuine priorities in your life at this moment. Write them down and then they will become real.

Action Plan

  1. Listen to your own voice.

  2. Get outside and appreciate nature.

  3. Take photographs and revisit them as a form of solitude when you are unable to experience them in the flesh.

  4. Be your best companion on life’s journey: you must be as you are the only constant in your life.

  5. Pause and be still. It is rejuvenating and helps you to make sense of the world around you in private.

  6. Try not to over-share your inner most thoughts/ideas/next move unless you have first shared them and processed them with yourself.

  7. 5th century Greek philosopher Pythagoras wrote: “In the morning, – solitude; … that nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company.”

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