Solitude is not Punishment (It’s a Gift):
Tips for incorporating solitude as a rhythm of life
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word solitude? Is it, Confinement? Isolation? Peace? Tranquility? Getting into trouble? Is there something else?
Whether you thought of any of the words above or not, I think it is easy to argue that the broader American society does not value solitude; we actually villainize it. How many movies have you seen where time being alone is portrayed as negative, unhelpful, or boring? For a movie to be compelling it needs dynamic relationships and unfortunately, solitude has not been given the dynamic time it deserves. Even in my own life, how many times have I felt uncomfortable in a space just because I was alone? The answer, many.
As I sat with the idea of writing a post on solitude, I thought, “This post could easily become a list of actions and behaviors for readers to replicate in order to maximize solitude,” but I think that simply providing a list that would do a disservice to you, the reader. From my experience, when discussing spirituality, creating a list of do’s and don’ts does not hold much transformational power. Transformation comes with a personalized understanding of our self; sometimes this comes in very particularized ways, and other times it comes in broad understandings that many people can connect with. In this post I hope to provide space for you to discover both broad themes about solitude along with very particular themes as it relates to you and your journey.
As you read through these various barriers to solitude, I would take the time to see how they may connect with you. Don’t simply gloss over them, take time to try them on as if you’re buying some new clothes. The good news is that with this dressing room, is that no one else has to know what you’re trying on and what might fit (or what might not!). You get to choose who you share that information with.
Negative Connotations of Solitude
- Solitude is boring
- Solitude is seen as isolation, which is bad because “we were made for community”
- People who pursue solitude are weird
- Solitude is for lonely people
- Solitude is impossible
- Solitude is bad – it is a synonym for isolation
- Social Media
- Peer Pressure
- FOMO (fear of missing out)
- I don’t know how to
- It’s daunting
- Am I doing this right?
- I don’t have time
- I’m too busy – I can’t turn “off"
- It wouldn’t be responsible of me to take some time for solitude
- Endless content available to distract us
- My friends want to hang out
Now that you have spent some time looking at your own thoughts and beliefs about solitude, take a second to read how Psychology Today defines solitude:
“Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.” I would add, as we become more self-aware we can begin to better understand and live into the ways in which God is leading us towards a life more in step with her. In light of this definition, does it change your understanding of any of the above barriers?”
The above definition can be very helpful, BUT just because we acquire a good definition or understanding of solitude does not mean we will automatically be “good” at it. My spiritual director, Larry Warner (b-ing.org), used to say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." This quote is a reminder that there is no “good” or “bad” when it comes to practicing a spiritual discipline or exercise. The important part is that you try something new without shame, expectation, or self-judgement.
Here are three tools for adding solitude to your rhythm of life (there is no order to these and each person will experience them differently). Try and release the pressure you may feel to enter into solitude in the “right” way; remember, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.
Identify what challenges you have with the idea and practice of solitude
- Use the above ideas as a way to enter into this step. What would you add?
- What’s the first picture that comes to mind when you think of solitude? Do you use solitude and isolation synonymously? Is there a specific fear you have with being alone?
- Growing up, how did your family handle being alone? Were there any unspoken rules or expectations about being alone?
- If you need a tangible idea to prompt you think about going to the movies alone or out to eat at a sit down restaurant alone. What does that bring up in you?
Awareness during solitude
- It is one thing to prepare and begin to become aware of our past and the way it impacts our behavior, but it also requires our ability to be aware in the moment. If we get stuck in the all or nothing thought process the whole time we are in solitude, we will end up be evaluating and grading ourselves instead of allowing our time to take us deeper into our experience of God and self.
- During solitude, if your mind wanders, do not shame yourself, but instead take note of what you are thinking about. Sometimes the things that come up from nowhere that we try to shut off are actually the things we can use to connect with God.
Mindset for pockets of solitude
- There are plenty of 48 hour and some multiple week solitude retreats available. While these are great options, you could pursue but let’s start small by cultivating a spirit of solitude in the everyday before reaching for the stars (or our wallets).
- Look towards your day and find a window that could allow you to spend five minutes towards entering a time of solitude.
- Look towards your week and see if there is a way to add one hour for a time of solitude.
- Look towards your month/year and see if there is a way to add a day retreat or afternoon retreat.
- Yes, solitude can be thought of as a specific set aside time and space, but it can also be an ingrained part of our being. What would it look like to choose one night a week to have an intentional time for being alone? What about choosing to make the first 10 minutes of your morning intentional, instead of a time to catch up on the days snapchat stories?.
- If solitude seems daunting because you don’t know what to do with your time, try going to see your next movie alone or going to a sit down restaurant and eating by yourself.
Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! Whatever you discover about yourself during your time is a gift to you from God and a way for you to ground your identity in the divine. Blessings as you move towards self-awareness and transformation through solitude!
Jon is a trained Spiritual Director from the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary. While he was completing his Masters degree he also worked at Vanguard University overseeing the student recreation programs and coached at a local CrossFit gym. Although these three roles may seem vary different, they greatly impacted the way Jon approaches wellness. He views wellbeing through wholistic lens that sees the interrelated natures of spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational wellness. Jon is a fan of sports (particularly San Francisco based teams), camping, coffee, and reading.