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Why Are Periods of Solitude So Important?

What makes music is not just the notes, but the spaces between them.

Solitude and silence are as important to the human experience as is meaningful activity. By this, I do not mean being alone with Facebook or Twitter, but really being alone and quiet, focusing on the internal instead of the external. Getting to know yourself is perhaps one of the most important acts of a conscious human being.

I realize that what I am suggesting is almost impossible to imagine for most citizens of contemporary Western culture, in which daily demands and complexities have increased exponentially in recent years, especially since the advent of the internet. Paradoxically, the personal devices have not so much made our lives easier as they have made them more complex and demanding.

What I mean to prescribe is real time alone to refresh and reflect, to answer to no one but oneself, to live the examined life. The brilliant jazz musician, Miles Davis, once commented that what young musicians have to learn is about the space between the notes. To become a virtuoso demands paying attention to those spaces, to a rhythm and pacing that is as important in life as it is in music. All young humans, not just musicians, need to learn the importance of the rhythms of life and to live inside them as much as possible. A client of mine, who was about to retire after a 40-year career, was asked by a much younger woman, “What are you going to do to keep busy now?” Not only could she not imagine not being busy all the time, but she could not imagine that any sentient being would accept that fate without a struggle.

Of course, this is not just the folly of the young and energetic. Free time, for many elders, is equated with a slow death, so they take up a hobby: needlework, knitting or golf just to fill time. I do not mean that these activities can not be meaningful, but rather that they are not if they are only to fill time. Time is precious and should be respected, if not revered. It is all we have, after all.

I am not advocating just sitting around all alone every day or meditating for hours a day, but instead for living inside the rhythms of life rather than trying to dominate them by hurried multi-tasking or less sleep or meaningless filler activities. I am advocating not just resting, but each of us taking time for ourselves, time to reflect and examine how we are living and if we are truly living as we wish, given the hand each of us has been dealt.

That is, some of us have the privilege to take free time easily; for others it may seem almost impossible, but it is not. It is just more difficult. It is imperative in order to live life well, to play the hand we have been dealt as well as possible. No one should have to wait to look back on life with regrets. To live fully and consciously is, after all, only human. We are built to reflect and not just to act. That too is part of the rhythm of human life.

More from Ellyn Kaschak Ph.D.
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