It’s 5:30 a.m., nothing is awake, not even the sun. That’s the time I know I will be alone. It used to be hard to wake up at that hour, but now I fling myself joyfully towards it like an inner city child running to the shore of the ocean. It’s a promise between me and me, that from 5:30 to 6:30 is mine to indulge in any way I please.
In the old days, the word alone was treated as two words, all one. Solitude is just that, returning to a state of all oneness, of wholeness. It’s an essential part of a creative, deliberately engaged life. Without it we dry up and whither. We lose meaning.
Nowhere was this made more obvious than when I was a breastfeeding mother of two very young children. Solitude became virtually extinct in my life. One afternoon I had a dentist appointment to replace four fillings. I’m terrified of dentists. It doesn’t matter how much Novocain they inject, I’m in a cold sweat. But I sat in his chair and two blissful hours later, when it was time to go, I asked if he could please just do a root canal, something, anything so that I could sit in that chair undisturbed just a little while longer. That’s how starved I was.
Modern life leaves us like breastfeeding mothers. We’re always attached to something—our smartphone, our computer, our to-do list, our Facebook. And while none of those things are inherently bad or uncreative, they do suck up our time and energy. If we don’t retreat and replenish ourselves, we compromise not only our health, but also our ability to be deeply and powerfully engaged.
Interesting, the newest subgroup emerging as amphetamine addicts is middle class and upper middle class mothers. Adderall – a nervous system stimulant ordinarily prescribed for people diagnosed with ADHD, has become acerbically known as ‘Mother’s little helper.’ According to reports, between 2002 and 2010, there’s been a 750 percent increase in Adderall prescriptions for women between 26 and 39. The reason? They’re trying to keep up with it all.
It’s hard to be reflective when you’re on speed. As life hurtles at increasing digital velocity, we think if we run faster, be more efficient, then we’ll be more productive and effective. Wrong.
We end up making ourselves sick. And unimaginative, dull, and uncreative.
Solitude is not a wasteland of passive empty nothingness, as some believe. When taken deliberately, it is palliative and preventative. It heals us from exhaustion and prevents us from succumbing to stress-created illness. But it is also a place to deeply listen and reflect, an alter to which we return, head lowered in reverent receptivity for things whispered from our souls to ourselves.
And as much as I love, and prefer, long adventurous sojourns where I can drink from solitude for days, realistically solitude can more easily be courted in small doses. The key is to be able to tune out distractions. A glance out the window to the sky in the middle of a meeting, choosing to walk to an appointment instead of drive, reaching into a book of poetry and reading three lines — these are all ways in that cost nothing, but give everything. Think of these moments like your own tiny fold-up sanctuary, that you can spread out in front of you whenever, and wherever you like.
So next time you are jotting things down on your to-do list, put at the top of the list ‘solitude’, and find it in tiny places every day. Then see if you can claim it in bigger spaces, an hour each day perhaps. At the crack of dawn if necessary.
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite women of all time, Eve Ensler —
“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here.”