Updated: Oct 14
Insights on the power of solitude from great thinkers
“There is a difference between loneliness and solitude; one will empty you, and one will fill you. You have the power to choose.”
The sheer power of solitude
I can spend days writing in my blue, book-cased office. I can be absorbed — hour upon hour — lost in the nebula of words, each one begging to be plucked and brought to earth. I worked in solitude for nine months, blissfully working on a manuscript every day to bring it from an embryo to a full-bodied book.
Solitude is a powerful force, drawing me in like quicksand.
I actually have to fight the pull of solitude, balancing my need for it with my husband’s requirement for company. (That’s another post altogether. Luckily for me, I have a husband who understands me and who works to accommodate my intense need for alone-time.)
The need to be alone is inherent in my nature, one of the puzzle-pieces that makes me who I am.
As a younger woman, I used to dream about being on a deserted island, serving as a lighthouse-keeper, or writing great works while living in a remote cabin in the wilds of Montana. (Never mind that that last fantasy almost killed me when my husband booked us a remote cabin in the Gallatin mountain range and my appendix decided to rupture. Again, that’s another story.)
I am not insensitive, just someone who marches to the beat of a different drummer. While I love people, I also have strong, pronounced hermit tendencies. Staying at home for days at a time is not a problem for me because I live inside my head most of the time while I’m reading or writing, anyway. So I’m always a little surprised by the desperation I hear in people’s voices about being confined to home.
Like writers and artists for eons before me, I’m most creative when I’m alone, losing myself in ideas and visions of what’s possible.
Solitude is NOT a disadvantage — especially for creatives
Being alone has increased the ability of great artists, writers, poets, and thinkers to create works of art for centuries.
Interestingly, in medieval times, to be “alone” meant to the “completeness of ones’ self.” In religious terms, it meant a spiritual “oneness.” It’s only been in our modern era that being alone signified a lack of something, being anti-social, or a constant state of loneliness.
Not all creative people are introverted, but many are. In fact, in the benchmark book titled, Flow, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly suggests,
“…exceptional creators are more likely to be introverted.”
The author of The Call of Solitude: Alonetime in a World of Attachment, Ester Buchholz, argues that “our need for time alone is as powerfully driven as our need for attachment.” It’s a necessary element of human existence, influencing creativity and intimacy.
So maybe I’m not weird. Maybe I’m just keenly attuned to the power of quiet time away from other people. Maybe I’m addicted to the “high” that solitude has injected into my life over and over again.
I’m not alone among the millions of other people who enjoy being alone. The model for “deliberate” self-isolation is Henry David Thoreau, who along with other great thinkers provide insights into the power of solitude:
Being alone is not the same as being lonely; it brings out your inner beauty.
“I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters…
As Thoreau points out, being alone brings out the inner beauty. The lake glows with a myriad of moving blues when it’s alone. The true essence of a person is exuded like a precious perfume when it doesn’t have to compete with social norms, other people, and conflicting agendas.
Solitude increases productivity and creativity:
There’s a reason writing coaches and mental health experts advise turning off the social media and the electronic distractions we suffer in this modern age.
Not only can too many activities, responsibilities, and too much attention to social media cause anxiety, depression, body-image issues, but they also suck the focus away from your current project, interrupting that all-important “flow.”
Being isolated from others — both electronically and physically — increases productive creativity.
In the words of Jane Hirshfield, Award-winning American poet,
“Solitude, whether endured or embraced, is a necessary gateway to original thought.”
Social-Distancing gets a new perspective when looked at from a bigger lens:
To put a spin on it: Six feet apart is NOTHING! Nobody understood that more than Thoreau:
It would be better if there were but one inhabitant to a square mile, as where I live.
What’s a piddly six feet when you think of the size of the universe?
Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such, — This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.
You’ll emerge stronger, both mentally and socially:
You’ll learn to trust in your own ideas:
“In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself.” — Laurence Sterne
You’ll be more emotionally stable, better able to deal with the rest of the world. (And that’s a good thing!) Thoreau describes it as growing a butterfly bursting forth from a cocoon:
You think that I am impoverishing myself withdrawing from men, but in my solitude, I have woven for myself a silken web or chrysalis, and, nymph-like, shall ere long burst forth a more perfect creature, fitted for a higher society.
You’ll learn to love your own company — more than ever before. Maybe even a little too much.
“Solitude is dangerous. It’s addicting. Once you see how peaceful it is, you don’t want to deal with people.” — Anonymous
The world is changing. The new world might be one that requires more alone time than we’ve ever had before. (Maybe I won’t have to feel so apologetic about requiring so much of it.)
Whatever happens, however our lives change, the experience of solitude will always enhance our lives.
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