The Forgotten Ingredient for a Better Life: Anne Morrow Lindbergh and the Power of Solitude
Updated: May 9, 2020
A dreary, gray Sunday afternoon surrounds me as I sit in my bedroom listening to the drops plunking off the thawing icicles. Faraway in the distance, a dog barks. Next to me, the furnace exhales sighs of warm air.
For once, no noise surrounds me. No loud dialogue from the television. No blaring music anywhere. No ongoing telephone conversations or kitchen clatter.
It is quiet. Perfectly peaceful.
Oh, the sound of silence.
In this day and age when communication is easy, electronic, and immediate; when we have planned activities at every moment of the day; when we spend our days with co-workers and colleagues; when our neighbors are a few yards away instead of miles apart….
We seldom appreciate the joy and healing power of solitude.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s most recognized work is a small book called “Gift from the Sea.” It was published in 1955 while Lindbergh walked the beaches of Captiva Island. Each shell she picked up reminded her of an aspect of women’s lives, and she began writing the inspirational book which has now sold more than 3 million copies and been translated into 45 languages throughout the world.
Gift from the Sea became an instant bestseller and was the top nonfiction book of 1955.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a shy diplomat’s daughter, had been subjected to much-unwanted publicity. You’ve probably heard about the tragedy of the kidnapping and death of the “Lindbergh baby” in the 1930s.
Twenty years after the tragedy, and after lots of personal struggle, (like seeing her aviator husband lose his hero status because of his comments sympathetic to Nazis,) Anne Morrow Lindbergh understood the harsh realities of life. She also knew how to survive it.
She was onto something. Something lasting and meaningful.
Lindbergh comments on how we are so busy with others that we lose touch with ourselves.
“Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there, is no inner music to take its place. We must learn to be alone.”
Is it true? Have we forgotten how wonderful it is to be with just ourselves? Are we too busy to take time to think, to contemplate, to salve our souls with silence?
“There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities and people and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives, but the important as well.”
Know what she means?
Lindbergh expresses a universal need for solitude
The universal truths she expresses is why the book is still being reprinted and re-read today, more than 60 years after it was written. (And if she was busy in 1955, can you imagine what she would think of our hectic schedules and the noise in 2019?) She says,
“But I want first of all…to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out obligations and activities as well as I can.”
That kind of inner peace rarely springs forth in the middle of maddening crowds.
Solitude is essential for people of all ages.
Lindbergh isn’t the only author who’s written about the need for alone time. For years, I’ve held onto an essay titled “A Day of Solitude” by Catherine Calvert. She points out that even children seek isolation.
“Surely that’s what all those hideouts are about — the house under the weeping willow, the crotch of the apple tree, the far end of the garden where children who are ordinarily all motion incarnate go for quiet time.”
Is Calvert right? Is the need for solitude why so many kids have “hide-outs?”
I had them. A hollow behind the hedges. A space behind a garment bag in my closet. A nest of blankets in the bottom of the huge old toybox downstairs. I’ve always found places to be by myself. (A sure indication that I was a writer by the age of five.)
Calvert suggests that as teenagers, the search begins for privacy, the kind that is not to be disrupted by younger siblings or marauding parents because such solitude is necessary to come to terms with an adolescent’s burgeoning identity.
Surely it is necessary for adults to come to terms with themselves as well.
We don’t need to retreat into lives of monkish isolation forever. But we do need to remember the joy of keeping our own company occasionally.
Anne Morrow Lindberg wrote that the solution for her was
“…neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.”
It’s all about balance. Sadly, in today’s world, the scales shift toward constant company, never-ending noise, continual communication, and eternal busy-ness.
It’s important to balance out the never-ending noise with a bit of quiet, alone-time.
Your work, your thoughts, your productivity, and your life, will be enhanced when you find that balance between community and contemplation. Between noise and silence. Between the masses and yourself.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh was right.
Solitude is a wonderful gift. And it’s a far, far cry from being lonely.
Melissa Gouty is very good company for herself. She often wanders alone through thousands of interesting, (strange? bizarre?) ideas in her head. She is blessed with a husband who understands that her need for several hours of solitude each day is NOT a reflection on the quality of his companionship.
Buy A Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh