The Virtues of Solitude


Recently I’ve thought quite a bit about how to make time on my own intentional and meaningful. There is virtue in solitude. Saints and mystics have been creating solitary experiences and lives for themselves for centuries. Even Jesus was known to wander off by himself. I have a friend who goes to silent meditations that last for hours or even weeks, and another who, when she gets a rare break from her kids, will sometimes choose just to go up to her desk in her room to enjoy doing things alone. Even my husband, the extrovert, enjoys smoking his pipe by himself on the balcony. They each find value in these diverse solitary experiences.

Balancing times of solitude, community, and quality time with loved ones is the rhythm we are all trying to learn in our own ways. And we all go through seasons of life where circumstances dish out to us either too much solitude or a lack thereof.

While I truly enjoy being with and talking to people, I tend towards the introvert. I need solitude in measured doses. I have found that when I have these times of intentional solitude, whether short or long, my soul is more peaceful, and my heart more ready for community. I've made goals for how to create and spend times of solitude for myself, including visiting favorite places in the city and in nature, using the time to journal and write, read books, pray or reflect, or to just take in the beauty of the city, nature, or people around me. Here are some thoughts on creating your own intentional solitude that I hope you find helpful or inspiring.

Work with what you’ve got. Maybe a realistic goal is to have no music or radio on in the car while you drive somewhere once during the day to give your mind some space. Use the time to reflect or to rest in the silence, taking notice of what’s passing by. Or you and your souse or a friend could take turns watching kids to give each other times of solitude.

Have a plan. It might seem strange, but I find that when I have something in mind for a time of solitude it will be more meaningful and nourishing. Decide ahead of time if you are going to journal, meditate, create something, or bird-watch.

Know thyself. Some of us get energy from being with people, and some of us get energy from time alone. But we all benefit from spending time both ways. If a week-long solitary retreat sounds heavenly, then go for your dream. If solitude is challenging for you, then try something small like going to a green space or park for 30 mins-hour on your lunch break, or on the way home a couple times a week, where you can do some people watching or read a book in the fresh air.

Lend a hand for solitude. Know a mom with little kids who could really use a couple hours to herself? Offer to watch her kids. As long as the house doesn't burn down and there are no serious injuries, then you've succeeded! She will thank you. Alternately if you know a single someone who spends too much time in solitude, invite them to your next party or out for coffee.

What does solitude mean to you?  How do you experience it?