It snowed yesterday! The first little snow of the season. Oh, it wasn’t much, just a dusting. But, everything was white + silent + moved slower. And I realized that living way above the city makes it look even more snowy + magical because I am looking down on all of the white, snow-covered rooftops. So, while I don’t have a backyard to wander in anymore, I have this top-of-the-mountain-like, oracle-at-Delphi view. Like my own little “mountaintop” for solitude.
Speaking of solitude, last night, my love went to dinner with a friend. I stayed home, ate leftovers, popped popcorn, and watched a Christmas movie with a glass of red wine. The evening at home alone got me thinking about solitude + winter. It’s funny. I would think that being up here, in my apartment overlooking the hustle + bustle of the city below, I’d feel a sense of isolation. But, actually, it is the complete opposite. I feel removed, but connected. Proof that, for me, alone does not mean lonely.
Now, I know that there are so many people out there who are alone and quite lonely. Or not alone – and, yet, lonely. And, I realize that I am writing about solitude from my place of privilege. I have people around me, I do not live alone, plus I am a contemplative who thrives when I have alone time. So, being alone does not create feelings of sadness, stress, or loneliness for me. I just want to express that I am aware of how I am writing about solitude + I am mindful of anyone who suffers from feeling a sense of loneliness in their life. Please reach out to someone, or even to me, if you feel a pervasive sense aloneness and need help.
However, what I am really talking about in this post is solitude. It just so happened that, last night, when I was alone at home, my thoughts drifted toward thinking about solitude. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts + tips with you today. Go look up the word and you will find definitions all talking about loneliness, being alone, remoteness, etc. But, solitude is not necessarily the same thing as alone, or lonely. Solitude is something deeper, I believe. So, I want to introduce a different way of thinking about solitude:
Solitude as a spiritual practice. Solitude as a natural way of learning to dwell in the moment. Solitude as a way of getting through winter. Solitude as a way of life.
If you are like me, then the idea of choosing solitude brings to mind monks, yogis, people who go off to the woods to live alone in a tiny hut, old mystics who lived in caves in the desert. These are the people who choose solitude as a way of life. Cloistered away in their simple, rhythmic, monastic way of life, all alone. It most likely sounds boring, lonely, and way too spiritual to many of us regular folk. And we assume that they are nothing like us. Except they are.
These men + women, who have chosen to live off the grid, are seeking something deeper. They are often not running from something, trying to avoid society, but seeking to engage more meaningfully in life.
Logically, pulling away means isolation + inaction. And, yet, these solitude-seekers often become more engaged or active in life. We are raised in the western part of the world to think that activity, busy-ness, and having lots to do means that we are engaged, successful, and making a difference. We should always be moving, doing, active. This is what it means to care for the world + to be a good person. To work, fight, and make a difference.
Solitude is, therefore, seen as being lazy, slow, selfish… or a luxury for the rich and privileged. Again, not for us. We “regular folk” are not meant for solitude.
But, of course, I say otherwise. We are all called to practice solitude, especially if we want a grounded, deeper, more meaningful way of living.
Why solitude? What do we gain? And is it really ok to take time off to be alone?
First of all, I believe that we must take time to practice solitude. We cannot engage in all of our activism, work, and caring for each other + the world if we do not first take care of ourselves – our own souls. We must fill our cup so that we have something to share. Otherwise, we’re just an empty vessel with nothing to offer. Even Jesus – and we can probably agree on this no matter our religion – who was actively preaching, healing, walking, sharing, teaching and being with people every day, pulled away to practice solitude. He often rowed to another side of the lake or climbed a mountain or went into a garden to be alone. To pray, breathe, rest, focus, remember.
Buddha did the same. As did Mother Theresa. And Henry David Thoreau. And Chris McCanness, a.k.a. Alex Supertramp (Into the Wild). And Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray Love.
The point is, pulling away and creating solitude for ourselves, does not isolate us. Instead, it connects us even more with each other + the world. Through our actions, our writings, our experiences, and through this deep river of love that binds us all together through the spirit, energy, light that is found in us all.
When we choose solitude, then we choose to step away + turn inward. We can meditate, pray, write, think, or just sit and breathe. The point is to simply get some space for our selves, for our soul, to that we can reconnect to that deep river of love + that light of divinity that runs through us all.
In our solitude, we have the space to really listen. The noise of the world and the voices of others is silenced and we can just be with our thoughts, our breath, and our truest selves (sometimes scary, I know; but still necessary). Here we can practice hearing that quiet whisper, that little tug in our belly, that is our intuition. We rise to a higher consciousness, a deeper awareness, and a sense of universal truth. And, contrary to what we have thought in the past, we infuse our life with energy, purpose, and action. All by simply practicing solitude.
Winter is our time to practice solitude
And what better time to practice solitude than the winter? It’s cold and dark. It’s also quieter and there is actually less activity (even though the holidays can be super busy). We are inside more. Candles + twinkle lights create a cozy atmosphere. The whole vibe is one of slowing down, wrapping up, and being snuggly. And, I truly believe that we are meant to follow the rhythms of nature and use this season as a time for rest, reflection, and tending to our roots.
This is the best, easiest, most natural time of the year to begin to practice solitude. To set aside time to sink into the dark, quiet, still moments so that we can live a more meaningful, mindful, purposeful life.
How to begin to practice solitude
I said before that we are actually like the monks, mystics, yogis, hermits, and off-the-gridders. And we are. But, we are also not exactly like them. Most of us do not want to pull away completely and go live in the woods or the desert alone. Some of us do, though. In any case, we don’t have to do that in order to introduce solitude into our life. We can start small. And I suggest doing that, especially if you find it hard or challenging to find the time or the desire to create a little solitary space in your day.
By starting small, I mean to carve out some dedicated time once a week for solitude. A shorter amount of time once a day would be even more beneficial, I believe. I’m talking 10-15 minutes of quietness, alone. Just you. Breathing, praying, meditating, writing. If you are reading these daily posts for Blogmas, maybe that can be your time for solitude.
The point of creating a practice of solitude is to, well, practice. To make time with yourself a priority. And then to simply be. We do not have to be a pro at it or feel the pressure to become a monk or guru or contemplative. Solitude is meant for everyone. It’s simply a way to slow down life a little + reconnect with our truest, deepest self.
As time passes, perhaps you are called to longer times of solitude. I have a goal for 2022 – to have a solitary retreat. Maybe an entire day, maybe a weekend. But, I’m starting small. You do you. And start with what feels good to you in your life.
But, promise me this. Don’t let this winter (or summer) slip by without at least thinking about what solitude means to you and how it might bring more mindfulness, a sense of purpose, a slower pace, a deeper meaning, or more inspiration to your everyday life.
As for me, the sun has now risen and my coffee cup is empty. My quiet moments for solitude are complete for the day. Time to rise and move slowly through my day – feeling inspired, grounded, and so very grateful. Happy Friday!