I’m (slowly) reading Michael Harris’ Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World. It’s about the benefits of embracing solitude and how difficult that can be in Western society. It’s quite interesting and I’ve highlighted enough quotes and ideas to fill my blog for weeks, but, right now, I just want to focus on one:
I don’t want to run away from the world – I want to rediscover myself in it.
I think that a lot of people (especially some of the more social people I know) assume that solitude and loneliness are the same thing. When I tell people that I like a bit (a lot) of solitude in my life, they immediately start worrying about me being lonely or telling me that I am lonely. But, solitude isn’t about being lonely and some people love having time to themselves, even if it’s just a few minutes. Solitude isn’t about not having friends or family, not feeling connected to your community, or not being able to spend time with people when you feel like being social. Solitude is about taking some time for yourself. It’s about ignoring your phone (calls, emails, text messages, social media, etc.) for a little while. It’s about letting your mind be blank or letting it wander off into those dusty corners you rarely visit. It’s about letting the sound of the rain, wind, crickets, birds, river, orchestra, etc. be the only thing you focus on for a little while. It’s about taking time to reconnect with yourself.
I think that this line from the book resonated with me because I was (and still am) on that journey, but I haven’t yet found the path I need and I’m still worried that others will think that my willingness to disconnect, declutter, and simplify are an attempt to run away. All of the changes I’ve made in my life these past few years were just my attempts to find my path and get back to solid ground.
Taking time for myself – whether it was early morning walks, time to sketch, or my new digital free Sundays – is just a way for me to get to know me. And, instead of disconnecting me from my community, it’s actually been making me feel more inclined to participate with my community. Instead of feeling heavy with the stress of what I was trying to make my life into, I’m feeling relaxed with the not-normal-but-works-for-me life that I’m working towards.
I know that I sometimes make finding time for solitude sound grand and easy, but it’s not. Certainly, it’s easier for someone like me who likes to take time for myself and let my mind wander, but I’m sure this sounds like a nightmare for many of my extroverted friends. Nonetheless, I would encourage everyone to find a few minutes here or there to be alone with your thoughts. Maybe that’s just stopping for a few breaths in a park on your way to work, taking the dog for a walk without your phone, sitting quietly with a loved one for a cup of tea, or meditating. The key is to take some time without distractions – no phone, no radio, no TV, no chatter from your BFF who had the most ridiculously awesome gossip. Those things can come later.
Try it, and maybe you’ll rediscover something about yourself.