Scott H Young

In Praise of Solitude


Much of the depression and angst people face comes from one source: the inability to sit in the solitude of one’s own thoughts.

A few days ago, I had the privilege of doing nothing. Not something relaxing or unproductive, but nothing. I sat in a chair and just thought. At first it was uncomfortable, I felt I needed to be doing something, even if it was meaningless and distracting. But after close to an hour of nothingness, I started to think clearly and appreciate things in a new way.

Complete solitude, doing nothing, can’t be described as boring. Boredom requires an activity. Watching paint dry is an activity, if only defined by it’s complete lack of interesting qualities. Solitude, for most people, can be described only as terrifying or satisfying, with more people stuck with the former.

Solitude is the Foundation

Fear of solitude cripples your activity in other areas of life. If you can’t stand being alone or without activity, you’ll seek anything to fill that void, even if it isn’t healthy. If you’re hungry, you’ll buy groceries you don’t need and eat junk you don’t want. Similarly, if you can’t stand solitude, you’ll fill your life with meaningless relationships and activities. Often at the cost of something truly great.

Being unable to withstand solitude is like being unable to withstand poverty. Many of the experiences in life are only accessible if you’re willing to risk, or go without, a certain level of income. If you require $70,000 per year to be happy, you’ve just eliminated a wide range of possibilities. If you require constant companionship and activity, you’ll restrict yourself from new ideas, people or goals which require some solitude.

There are many goals that require some degree of solitude before they can start. It’s only after sitting alone with your thoughts for a few hours that you start to peel away some of the incorrect thinking that has been holding you back. If you don’t tolerate your naked thinking, you’ll never stumble on these new inspirations.

Solitude for New Ideas

I’ve done some form of meditation on and off for the last five years. Although many practitioners have elaborate rituals for meditating, I believe the real value is the absence of activity and allowing for unstructured, undistracted thought.

Depending on the state of mind you have when you enter, the first 15-30 minutes can be the incredibly difficult. The desire to get up and do something can be overwhelming. However, often after getting through this period, you start getting great ideas. Insights into previously intractable problems suddenly appear and difficult situations become simple.

Thriving in Solitude

Becoming comfortable with solitude doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself into the mountains and become a hermit. It just means giving yourself a chance to be without people or activity for a few hours.

This can be difficult in a world crowded with people and activity. I like Brian Tracy’s suggestion to sit alone in your car. A small cubicle of isolated space, this can be a good strategy if you’re surrounded by people both at work and home.

Power of Solitude

When in complete solitude, you can honestly say you are content and at peace, you have an incredible power you take with you to every other aspect of life. You leave behind the taint of a person who craves something beyond just desiring it. Without this holding you back, you can approach each situation from strength, instead of desperation.

The person who enjoys solitude doesn’t need to remain in a relationship that isn’t satisfying. The person who enjoys solitude doesn’t need to spend time on a boring activity. The people who enjoy solitude don’t need to fill their lives with distractions.


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9 Responses to “In Praise of Solitude”

  1. Marty says:

    Hi Scott,

    I love your posts, they really help me grow in my thinking and understanding of the ever-changing thing that we call “life”.

    But this post raised a question for me though.. by sitting alone with your thoughts, do you mean a meditation-like sitting, ie. trying to think about nothing, or do you mean just think whatever your mind wants to think of at the moment?

    I can identify with the character traits you give to people who can’t sit in solitude.. that’s why I would like to know what the practise is, so I can try it out for myself.

    Keep up the good work!

    yours,

  2. Swaroop says:

    Excellent post. I had similar thoughts of my own off late, but you expressed it very well.

    Reminds me of a quote by Aristotle: “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.”

  3. Scott Young says:

    Marty,

    I work on both. From the perspective of this post, I’m saying your thoughts should go wherever they please. Focusing them too much into an area, while useful in some contexts, is another layer of activity separating you from solitude.

    -Scott

  4. Old Student says:

    Hey Scott,

    If you’d like to give solitude a “professional” shot, you should try out a Vipassana meditation. There is a school run by S.N. Goenka which is freely available through many centres around the world:

    http://www.dhamma.org/

    The retreats are 10 days in silent sitting meditation, with 1 hour discourse each day by Goenka (via video or tape recordings).

  5. Marty says:

    Scott,

    Thank you very much for your informative reply. I will try this out some time later this week.. I’ve got a lot of spare hours then!

    yours,

  6. You touched on many things in this article and I agree with all of them. Here is my wording and perspective :)

    Most of the profound discoveries (remembrances) are found while alone. We are all here to help each other but the experiences of the most insightful things are a journey through understanding Self first and understanding Self is not possible while in the company of others, you are most yourself when you are alone. Therefore, always set time aside for just you.

    There are infinite types of meditations and each individual experiences meditation differently. For me it is about many things: clearing myself/ balancing/ centering/ searching from within/ manipulating energy/ stay grounded/ quieting the mind/ relieving stress/ focusing/ visualizing/ connecting to Self and many other things. Some people find a state of meditation though almost anything from daydreaming to completely challenging tasks, yet whatever it means to you, the art of meditation is advised for a high state of consciousness.

    We live in such an action based world, that we think we must always do something in order to be something (get money to be happy..etc). Being is a state, doing is an act based on the state (mind-set) you are in.

    For example, positive people are positive and do positive things based on how they are being (not the other way around). Being positive is a simple act of being in that state, by allowing yourself to be there, no matter what the situations. Your circumstances have nothing to do with how you feel. Feeling is about being. You can allow your surroundings to determine how you feel, but ultimately you have control over your feelings (not your surrounds, circumstances, or situations). Just being alone activated thoughts of wisdom, in which you can later applied in the act of doing. Wisdom is not gained by doing.

    Thank you for contributing this article and thank you for the opportunity to contribute in a comment. :)

  7. Kevin says:

    Yes! This is pure gold. I have a really difficult time being bound by time constraints, so when I’m intentional about going into solitude, I go by ‘wilderness time’…meaning that I go until I’ve got things sorted out. The wife has learned to accept this. Other good times are during a good walk/run/bike ride, or driving in the car (turn the radio off!). Especially good for introverts because this is a way we recharge our batteries and process the flood of input in our lives. Thanks Scott!

  8. EgGy says:

    Scott Young,

    Life should be challenging and if its not then the value of life is not appreciated. I have been challenged many times and hit many lows. Problems would get me stressed, which leads to anxiety attacks, racing minds and clinical depression. Solitude is the Solution. I would take a step back from everything I was doing and then meditate (concentrate on emptiness). This technique allows the person to let go of everything (man made concepts, social constructs, pride, emotions, money, status, problems, including thyself). This is the way to peace and happiness. Great article, Scott!

    Surya

  9. hermes handbags says:

    Excellent post. I had similar thoughts of my own off late, but you expressed it very well.

    Reminds me of a quote by Aristotle: “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.”

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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