I can be by myself because I'm never lonely, I'm simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me.
Back in high school days I didn’t like the social scene so much. All those uncertain souls desperately looking to one another for validation. So I chose an escape route: I withdrew into seclusion, removing myself from all equations, a self-imposed isolation.
It will come as no surprise that my isolation resulted in loneliness. However, like a boy running through the woods who stumbles upon treasure, in that isolation I stumbled upon an equally surprising treasure—the restorative nature of solitude.
There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is cold. It haunts us in the quiet hours when we have failed to create enough white noise to drown it out. It is scary. It is deafening. But loneliness is not solitude, and solitude is not loneliness. Loneliness is an entirely different issue that will not be tackled here.
Solitude is the quiet of standing in a windless snowfall. The snow acts as a sound dampener—it’s hard to hear a car even if it’s only 20 feet away. It’s more than quiet—it is substantive, as if you could stretch out your hand and push into the silence like a down pillow. I’m guilty of using loneliness as a safety mechanism, but loneliness does not offer safety, at least not the kind that helps. Solitude, on the other hand, restores.
Sleep might be a helpful analogy. I doubt anybody would argue against the merits of sleep. Sleep allows your body to rest and for your brain to restore itself from the damage of a day’s sensory input. There is nothing more unhelpful than a terrible night of sleep—nights that are restless and full of movement.
Our lives are eerily similar to a terrible night of sleep: restless, constantly moving, filled with noise, damaging. Like our bodies and our brains, we desperately need rest and restoration from the damage of everyday life. The answer is not to check out, nor to grit teeth and muster on. It is to intentionally and actively pursue quiet so deep that you can hear yourself think again.
Bernie Krause has spent over 30 years capturing totally natural sounds. As those years progressed, his job has become more difficult. “In 1968 I could record for about 15 hours and capture about one hour of useable sound—a ratio of about 15 to 1. Now it takes nearly 2,000 hours to obtain one hour of untainted natural sound,” wrote Krause.
This world is noisy, to say the least. It is easy to become accustomed to it and to let it go unnoticed. Yet no matter how much we do not notice, constant noise and movement is exhausting. And it is an exhaustion that requires more than sleep to recover from.
To take a breath, to stop moving, to reduce the unnoticed but deafening sound—this requires solitude. My favorite prescription most often involves sitting in a truly quiet place and reading. It also comes taking a walk through the woods on an afternoon. There, in those quiet moments, I can think, or at least I have the option to do so. It is a true, deep rest, which I need desperately in order to keep from tipping over the razor’s edge between productivity to insanity.
And the man who was the best man ever, the sanest human being, the fullest and most alive was a man who practiced this often:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone….” (Matthew 14:23)
“At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place.” (Luke 4:42)
In fact his most famous episode of solitude—the forty days in the wilderness—was not a period that weakened him as so many think, but rather how he prepared himself to be his strongest, to take on the test that was coming. Now think of it—if Jesus Christ needed solitude and quiet to be restored, to be strengthened, how much more do we?
You need stillness in your life. Or the world will swallow you whole.