Solitude is almost a foreign concept today. We’re connected to other people 24 hours a day. Most people sleep with smartphones inches from our head. We stare at computer monitors for hours at a time at work and call watching television while checking social media “unwinding.” We’ve completely lost the ability to be alone.
Almost every worldview strongly encourages meditation for personal and spiritual growth. The Buddha is believed to have found enlightenment from searching within. A famous Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God,” has been a meditation mantra for rabbis and priests for hundreds of years. So, what can we learn about ourselves in a time of solitude? The answer: much more than you think.
For years, I associated doing nothing with laziness. But really, I was scared of what I might find inside myself if I stayed still. So I buried myself in work and planning. I did whatever I could think of to avoid being alone. That pattern led to a collapse that left me with almost nothing. I finally built up enough courage to be still. What I found was a gift I never knew I had.
I spent time at a lake in southern California, sitting on the beach, listening to the wind run through the trees and the small waves lap gently on the beach. I didn’t have an iPod, a book, a cell phone or even a watch. I just sat there. I didn’t pray. I didn’t talk to myself. I was, well, still. Minutes passed like seconds and hours like minutes.
I had never experienced such spiritual rejuvenation. I could sit there in bliss for hours. It was during an afternoon in solitude that I had a vision of myself painting a mural. I hadn’t touched a paintbrush since the 2nd grade, so I was very confused by this vision. Later that week, I enrolled in painting classes and discovered a talent I never knew I had.
Now, I paint every couple of weeks and make time to be by myself. As often as possible, I try to get to the lake where it all started . Sometimes I enjoy a whole afternoon in solitude, sometimes just a half hour. I have to schedule my time alone wherever I may be.
I’ve developed 5 techniques that might help you find the solitude you need and deserve!
5 Techniques to Find the Gift of Solitude
1. Put it in your calendar.
I treat my solitude sessions like I’m meeting an important client. Give the session an important-sounding name in your calendar. This helps if someone asks you to do something during that time. Otherwise you might come up with an excuse to blow it off.
2. Ask someone to hold you accountable.
This technique might help you follow through if you don’t like letting people down. Give it a try. Just make sure you don’t invite that person to join you. That would defeat the purpose!
3. Unplug and power down
If you can’t make the time to get away or get outside, have your solitude time at home. Turn off your cell phone, power down your computers, unplug the TV. Find a spot in your house or backyard and just be still. Listen to what’s around you. Just remember to turn everything back on when you’re done!
4. Long drives are your friend
Living in southern California, I spend a lot of time in my car. Turning off the radio and phone can turn a stressful car ride into meaningful solitude. Be safe, though—don’t try this technique when you’re tired.
Take some time to set down your thoughts after your solitude session. You’ll find a refreshed and renewed perspective on just about everything. When you look back at these writings later, you may be shocked at what discovered about yourself.