It is so quiet in my house that I can hear the hum of the computer and of the fridge in the kitchen.
For a minute I don’t know what to do with myself. Everyone is gone. I take a breath. I pour a cup of coffee and think about the basket full of bills and the article deadline. I’ve got holiday decorations I’d like to get out. Laundry to fold. But, first I need a moment of quiet. Of stillness. I sit down in my big kitchen chair and watch the sun shadows trip along the walls and take a deep breath.
Solitude Encourages Creativity
It’s not that I don’t love people or energy or ideas or activity. Many of the things I love most on the planet are, after all, people. But my ability to be well in this world is dependent on a certain amount of solitude. It’s where I find my balance.
It’s good for all of us: Solitude is the root of innovation and creativity. It is restorative. Quiet time eases stress and promotes relaxation and concentration. Often it fosters greater appreciation for others and enhances social relationships. It also delivers a dose of perspective and helps us become better problem solvers.
But alone time is not loneliness. Loneliness packs a host of health risks, including higher blood pressure and a tendency toward depression. Loneliness is a time when we feel separate from all. Solitude is when we feel deeply connected to self.
“Solitude is a catalyst for expert performance,” writes Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Why We Avoid Quiet Time
Yet, initially, alone time can feel frivolous—like I’m not getting enough done—and we have to ward off early feelings of guilt.
But time in solitude actually makes us more productive. It inspires new ideas, solutions, and connections and keeps us from getting so burned out that we can’t function.
Sure, it can be a bit scary to move into the quiet alone. When we slow down we begin to notice what is really going on in our lives, the things we’ve been too busy to examine. We might not always be comfortable with what we find. But if you are courageous enough to establish a daily practice of solitude, those difficult moments will yield insights that will propel you through troubles.
Solitude is a practice, though. You’ve got to do it to get the benefit. Like ballet or golf, cooking or writing, or eating with chopsticks, it gets easier the more you do it. Then, in the quiet you will feel yourself come alive again, because when we can hear what we think, and feel what we feel, we become fully engaged in the present moment.
How to Start a Solitude Practice
There’s nothing woo-woo about it. You don’t have to pray or chant or dance around a bonfire during your sessions of solitude. And don’t call it meditation—that will just freak people out. There are only two (and-a-half) rules: Be alone. Be quiet. And here’s the half – be still at least part of the time. A quiet walk, gardening alone in the silence, cooking alone without music or the television are all powerful ways to access your alone time. But it’s also important to just stop doing, to be still and to notice what comes up.
Here are five other tips that can help you carve out a few moments of quiet in your day:
1. Plan for it. Ask for it. My husband is always willing to help me find time because he knows now that most times, an hour or two to myself each week (more if you can get it) keeps me from becoming a raging, crazy woman.
2. Make it a priority. Like brushing your teeth or taking a shower, 10 minutes of quiet time a day packs health benefits that will contribute to your peace and well-being. This is not a luxury. It is part of taking care of your body and cultivating your spirit and it’s just as important as eating vegetables and working out.
3. Teach the people you live with about quiet time. We’ve coached our daughter that each day includes quiet time. No television or computer or music. This is the time to read or play or create art—alone. By telling those you live with that this is important to you, and leading by example, they’ll begin to support it and enjoy it as well.
4. Use the spaces in between. I rarely have the radio on in the car when I’m driving alone. When I’m waiting for an appointment, I’m seldom texting or talking. And chore time at home can be quiet time. I often work without music or television or noise. I don’t always get time to sit in solitude, but the spaces in between the rest of my responsibilities allow time without noise.
5. Create at least one daily ritual that promotes quiet. Say a prayer. Meditate a few minutes each day. Go for a run without headphones. Take a long bath, or sneak in a shower before bed. My morning coffee is a ritual around quiet. When I know I’ve got a particularly cluttered day ahead, I’ll get up 15 minutes early just to drink coffee alone in the quiet.
Creating pockets of solitude is a powerful way to refuel and energize your life. Make it a priority. Build it in. You’ll feel better and more equipped to manage the challenges of your day.