Solitude - A Hidden Fortress

Paula R. Starker, RN

You don’t need to go far from your front door to notice that people avoid it. The driver in the car next to you talks on his smart phone or sings along with music from his satellite radio. The shopper next to you talks on the phone (and you listen!). People work out at the gym or the park or take bike rides arrayed with a variety of earbuds and headphones entertained by their favorite music play list or podcast. We are swept away into the steady stream of communication, information and ideas that flow into our minds 24/7. Natural opportunities for solitude, which were once an integral part of life in generations past, are avoided and drowned out.

Did you know that your need for solitude is as basic to your well-being as your body’s need for food and sleep? Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception (Harper and Row, 1970) suggested that our sense organs, nervous systems, and brains are basically eliminative in nature. They keep us from being confused and overwhelmed by much useless and irrelevant information. Ignoring your body’s need for solitude can have a detrimental effect on your overall well-being and sadly, find you missing out on one of life’s best pleasures. But what is solitude exactly and how can you fit it into your already overstretched schedule?

We all know the wonderful feeling of relief on coming home after being away too long on vacation. How much more is it like that for us when we return to our own selves after visiting friends and foreign places—even people and places we deeply enjoy. In solitude we come home to an old friend: ourselves. Webster defines solitude as “the quality or state of being alone or remote from society.” In solitude we discover our place of refuge; a hidden fortress. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a fortress as “a strong place” and in military terms, “…a strongly fortified town fit for a large garrison.” Retreating to your inner world provides strength and protection from the battles surrounding you! Hamlet’s young prince even prescribed solitude to his troubled mother until she found her inner self by looking at the gazing ball.

The rolling plains and farmland of the upper Midwest seem to stretch on in their solitude for an eternity. But one can observe an intriguing phenomenon each spring. Never-seen-before rocks and even boulders curiously appear on the surface of the ground after the snow melts. Each year, farmers gather them and pile them up before planting their crops. But how can a field which sits in absolute stillness produce matter? A “lifting” process occurs when the surface soil warms and expands, forcing the colder, more dense materials up to the surface. In much the same way, solitude softens the frenzied outer shell of our lives caused by society’s incessant chatter. Solitude “lifts” our inner worlds into view; our true creative selves which lie dormant beneath the surface of our beings. It is in this stillness—quiet reflection or meditation—that we are able to focus on our own thoughts, ideas and perceptions. It is there that our lives are revitalized and can bring forth rich new areas of growth.

Many people avoid solitude because unresolved conflict often moves center stage into their thoughts and they feel uncomfortable. With time we learn to manage those uncomfortable feelings and move past them to enjoy our solitude.

Consider the following:

  • Sleuth around in your daily routine to identify potential moments of solitude that are hidden within the actions of your day: your daily walk or run, your shower, your commute, your lunch break, folding/ironing your clothes, etc.
  • Be vigorous in snatching solitary moments and be diligent in protecting them!
  • Schedule 15-30 minutes of solitude over your lunch break every day. If this is impossible, sneak away from the activity within your home for time alone before dinner or bed each evening or start with an hour on the weekend.
  • Next time you go to the gym or take a walk outside, leave your headphones and earbuds behind. 
  • Rediscover a solitary hobby that you once enjoyed or learn a new one—it can add an extra joi de vivre, or “love of life” to your life.

Golden moments of solitude are woven throughout your days. Discover those moments and take pleasure in them and you will find that solitude really is the hidden fortress which can add greater strength, focus, creativity and growth to your world.

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