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Practicing Solitude

One thing that I need in higher doses than most is solitude, alone time, a type of spaciousness that only arises when I have space for and to myself. We all have this need, in varied intensities. What happens when we look inside, when we make time to tend to what’s inside? 

Practices of solitude differ from person to person and depend on circumstance. Some friends with small kids note that they’re lucky if they get time alone when they’re using the bathroom; they daydream of how they would relish just an afternoon by themselves. Oh, how solitude would soothe. Others thrive with greater connection, filling up every nook and cranny with some type of interaction, finding contentment with minimal alone time. For those with the tendency to isolate, too much solitude is dangerous; balance is to be found in connecting with others. We all vary. But for most, solitude can be a salve, a practice to restore internal energy and support balance. We need solitude to recharge us, to remind us of our true self, to reconnect us with others more wholeheartedly.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés shares: 

“Long ago the word alone was treated as two words, all one. To be all one meant to be wholly one, to be in oneness, either essentially or temporarily. That is precisely the goal of solitude, to be all one. It is the cure for the frazzled state so common to modern women... Solitude is not an absence of energy or action, as some believe, but is rather a boon of wild provisions transmitted from the soul.”

What happens when our awareness is directed inward, when there is spaciousness to tend to our self? Two themes often arise for me when I get some me-time. Firstly, I am left to see that the common denominator in all my daily activities, in all my interactions, in all my relationships, is me. I see that my anger did not come from that mess at work; my happiness is not dependent on someone else’s mood. I always have a choice of how to respond; from the inside I create my reality. Sometimes this is humbling, sometimes encouraging, always interesting. 

The second theme: I clearly sense, I know, that I am not alone, that we are always connected. By “we” I mean loved ones, family, people from the past, all the rest of the humans on this planet, and all of nature. Often, taking space allows for reflection and can actually strengthen understanding and love. Both of these reminders point directly at the “all one” attitude embraced by Estés.  

If time alone can be so valuable, why do we neglect it? What would happen if we treated this time to ourselves as something that deserved our focus and energy? What if we planned for it, the way we schedule in meetings and exercise and our myriad other activities? This time for the self can be five minutes in an empty room, a meal enjoyed by yourself, a solo walk around the block, an evening home alone, a guided retreat, solo traveling, or more. And it can be filled with whatever we choose. So choose something; make it intentional.

Sometimes it is difficult to be alone, and at times it’s the biggest luxury. With practice, we can develop our own unique ways of carving out alone time and using it wisely when we’ve got it, so that ultimately, we return to others with more centered minds, more open hearts, and more gratitude for connection.

What happens when you take time for yourself?