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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