Practicing Solitude

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I am a solitary morning person.  My body, my heart, my mind, likes to wake up before the sun rises and spend a few hours in solitude before having to really show up for other people. If I interact with another person at, say, 5 am, I'm really not a joy to be around. But interacting with myself at 5am?  That's when some of my best thinking happens. The world feels so peaceful.  Just for a moment, it feels like the whole city is in that pause, that space, before the inhale. It's filled with possibility.  It's filled with potential energy.  It's filled with other solitary morning people who are soaking in the softly vibrating earth beneath their footprints. It is the act of being alone that allows me to successfully navigate the rest of my life with ease and compassion because I know who I am, where I stand, what I want. I tell people about my solitary morning choices and usually the first thing they say is "why" or "well that will need to change one day". But why can't my solitude be a choice and a healthy one? Answer: it can be when we start to frame the choice to be alone in the right way.

Why has solitude got such a bad reputation? Solitude is different than loneliness but we have started to interchange those two words so that they feel like one experience.  Loneliness is a very specific state of being. It is a feeling of social isolation. There is a sense of overwhelming gravity, of sadness, of not being seen or heard.  Loneliness is often a symptom of depression. Loneliness doesn’t feel like a choice. Solitude feels different in the body. It feels different in the quality of thoughts. Solitude is a purposeful moment or moments of being with yourself. Solitude is intentional alone-ness. It is a choice to come back to the self by removing the outside stimuli of other people’s thoughts, ideas, feelings, toward you and your actions. Our perception determines our reality. So, if we equate solitude with loneliness, we miss out on the gifts that solitude has to offer us.

Why is solitude so important? Can you stand up on your own two feet and hold yourself there? When we, very necessarily, give ourselves moments of solitude we have the opportunity to rebuild, recharge, and reset.  As a social species, it is only natural that we imitate and take on the ideas and behavioral patterns of the people we spend time with.  Think of it like this, babies learn most of their behavioral patterns through mimicking. That idea of mimicking or taking on the qualities of the people we spend the most time with doesn't disappear as we age. Moments of solitude let us shed what we have taken on from other people and come back to ourselves. It is an illusion that we sometime buy into we need someone else to support us through the whole of our existence.

Who are you outside of your relationship to other people?  What do you like?  What sets your soul on fire? What lines of poetry speak to your heart? What are you truly passionate about? If we constantly put ourselves in situations where we are only taking things in, information about other people and how they respond to our particular choices, we start to live in a world that is ruled by the response we hope to get out of the other person. We also don't give ourselves the necessary time and space to process all that we have taken in and see how we energetically respond to it if we are constantly taking information in from outside sources. The dangerous thing about relying on other people to determine likes and dislikes, the path to want to travel, the things that you are passionate about, happiness, is that not all people were meant to stay in your life forever. Most of them will come and go, as they should. Of course they will leave imprints of their energy on your heart, but the only person who you are with for your whole life is yourself. That relationship requires tenderness, compassion, and quality time in the form of solitude.

In solitude, there is no one to be accountable to expect for yourself, your heart. And that’s why it matters.  We spend so much time showing up as different versions of ourselves for all of the other people in our lives.  When was the last time you showed up fully and wholly as yourself for yourself? The gift of solitude is that there is no one to impress, no one to take care of, no one to soothe or excite or appease. Just you.

What do you during solitude QT? The more time and energy I spend pouring into other people, the more time I need to come back to myself. My job and the things that I am passionate about are highly social.  When I know that the majority of my time will be spent listening and giving and supporting, I make a particular point it to do the same for myself.  Many times that means waking up early to go for a run as the sun rises.  It means journaling for a good 45 minutes, uninterrupted.  It means rolling around on my yoga mat, singing and sobbing and letting myself be unapologetically me.  It means taking a long walk by myself and looking up at all of the buildings wondering what the stories of the people who live inside them are. It means putting my phone on Do Not Disturb and not answering texts or emails for a hot second. There is no right way to spend time in solitude. It really can look like anything but I've found that quiet and space are the two good ingredients to start with. 

Does the idea of solitude cause you anxiety? Know that you are not alone.  From a very young age, so many of us have been taught this story that we eventually find one person with whom we are supposed to share the rest of our lives and that story ends with marriage and children and a happily ever after. That is such a beautiful story. I love that story. It doesn't have to be the only one. It is an equally beautiful story to find many different types of love in many different types of people.  It is an equally beautiful story to find a great love in and for yourself.  It is a beautiful story to spend your life and energy making the world a better place. When we give ourselves the opportunity to challenge the idea that our story always has to include another person, solitude doesn't seem quite so scary.  It will definitely be uncomfortable after having believed one version of the story for 20+ years. The more opportunity you give yourself to heal yourself, the more you give yourself the opportunity to forge connections that are truly meaningful. If you never try, you never know. Courage moments. One breath at a time, we can change our worlds.

How do you feel about solitude? What solitude practices do you have?