On the canoe trip this past weekend, my friend Jayne remarked that in the nine years she’s known me, she never knew how much I enjoy solitude. This comment came after I woke up early in the morning to sit for an hour alone gazing out over the magical foggy lake, and after I’d wandered off into the woods in the middle of the afternoon for a bit of quiet meditation on a moss-covered rock.
It’s true – solitude and I are old familiar friends. I can barely function without a little solitude in my life, whether it’s my bike ride to and from work, a wander through a bookstore in the middle of a busy weekend, or a business trip that offers me a few evenings with nothing to do but wander alone through a new city.
It’s not that I’m extremely introverted – I’m not. That’s why it surprised my friend Jayne. She’s mostly seen me as an outgoing leader/communicator who’s always willing to contribute to group discussions, host parties, facilitate workshops, etc. In the 4 or 5 times I’ve taken a Myers-Briggs survey, in fact, I’ve fallen just over the line into the extrovert category (though I tend to be a fence-sitter on that one).
But solitude… oh how I love it! It has to be in balance with the outgoing communicator stuff – I’d go a little crazy with nothing but solitude – but without it, I think I’d be a stressed out zombie much of the time.
I didn’t always embrace solitude. Back in my twenties, in fact, I thought solitude was something to be avoided. I was pretty sure if I spent too much time alone I would look pathetic and anti-social. So I did everything I could to make sure I was seen to be an active member of the social scene.
But then things changed around the time I turned thirty. Partly it was marriage and motherhood that changed me. Having people always present in my home made me realize that sometimes – though I loved these people dearly – I just needed some quiet time alone. Thankfully, my introverted husband understood, and started figuring out that if he’d occasionally send me out of the house for some alone time, I’d come back a much happier woman.
Embracing solitude can be a little scary at first. The first time you eat alone in a restaurant, for example, you worry that you might be the person everyone is staring at and feeling sorry for. But once you’ve done it a few times, you begin to sink into it and learn to appreciate the opportunity to quietly enjoy your food and do all the people-watching your heart desires. I used to take a book or magazine along to help fill the space between ordering and receiving my food, but I don’t always need that anymore.
I think that the more comfortable we are with ourselves – all of the good stuff AND the bad stuff – the more confident we can be in our solitude. We start to care less about what other people think and start to feel more relaxed just having our own thoughts for company. When we’re feeling insecure, it’s hard to sit still with our own thoughts. Mostly we want to keep busy and keep a little noise in our lives to drown out the sound of our own voice.
When I was in the woods on the weekend, the idea came to me that I should challenge myself one of these days to see just how much solitude I can handle – just how comfortable I am with my own thoughts. Perhaps I’ll do a vision quest – find a place in the woods where it’s just me, my thoughts, nature, and God. Will I embrace it, or will I run back to civilization when things get too quiet? I don’t know, but I think I’ll try – even though it feels a little scary. I’ve done lots of solo trips, but there’s a big difference between sitting alone in the woods and sitting alone in a hotel room.
This little video has been floating around the internet and I’m sure many of you have seen it by now. It’s a good little reminder of the beauty of being alone.