In the midst of most days, we search for constant entertainment. Our brains yearn for the next fix, the next high, the next notification. We change the radio station when the song doesn’t please us. We check our phones at every stop light. We scroll through various pictures and videos as we wait in line at the CVS.
We crave distraction. We know that a moment of pause will send a steady stream of thoughts that we don’t want to handle. We fear being alone with ourselves because we don’t want to settle down with our thoughts.
Yet spending some time in solitude allows us to sort out our misperceptions and discover our authentic self.
When I was training for my first marathon, my friend Perry asked, “What do you think about when you’re running that long? I’d run out of thoughts.”
I told him that there comes a time when you do run out of thoughts. Then you just run and allow whatever comes into your mind to pass through. You truly live in the moment.
I have enjoyed running with music, podcasts and even meditations. Running with others is nice, too, because you can have nice, uninterrupted conversations. But sometimes I need to run alone with the impromptu sounds around me.
In fact, many times I need to retreat into my own quiet space. It’s the only way I can remain centered in my hectic life.
In “Byways of Blessedness” by James Allen, there is a whole chapter on solitude. He starts this chapter so appropriately:
“Man’s essential being is inward, invisible, spiritual, and as such it derives its life, strength, from within, not from without. Outward things are channels through which its energies are expended, but for renewal it must fall back on the inward silence.”James Allen, “Byways of Blessedness”
Mind you, being part of a community is important. Connecting with others can sustain you in times of sorrow and trauma. Community also rejoices in your triumphs.
However, there are times when solitude is necessary. Henri Nouwen calls it “creative absence.”
In his book “Inner Voice of Love,” he suggests that taking time for yourself is important for spiritual and personal growth, particularly in ensuring that you’re living on purpose. In other words, your community relies on your unique contribution, which sometimes can get lost in your desire to fit in.
“You might need certain things that the community cannot provide,” Nouwen wrote. “For these you may have to go elsewhere from time to time.”
This doesn’t mean a 30-day silent retreat. It could be a few moments alone each day to nurture yourself.
Time in solitude can be time of discernment. You might find yourself uncomfortable with something, but you don’t know why. Talking with friends might help, but spending a few moments alone with your discomfort might give you clues about the nature of the problem.
It might mean a job change. It could also indicate a need to address your health. You yourself know the answers if you sit down with the discomfort and let it speak to you. This is solitude.
This article was previously published on Medium.