What Makes A Good Human?: Solitude

From http:///www.markg.com.au

The last in this series, comes late for several reasons. For one, I am Poland, and have been enjoying my vacation. But largely it is because this last quality has needed many if not all of the things I am going to talk about under this heading. The time change has left me less than well rested and it has taken about a week to really feel like myself again. It has taken also some time for me to find enough time to myself, in which I haven’t needed to take care of my son, and haven’t been surrounded by family. My in-laws live in a small apartment and it has felt uncomfortable for me to spend a lot of time writing around others. Finally it has taken a lot of thought, deep thinking, introspection and perhaps a little creativity to nail down what I wanted for this last quality. It also took some humility as I had to bounce this creation off my wife because I was rather unsure if I had a cogent post here or whether I might need to make a 9th quality. What I thought was going to be my 8th quality changed as I realized there were other things that I wanted to write about that I felt were linked together but unsure how. And there may be some debate as to whether or not I was successful here putting all of these under the same umbrella.  In the end I’ve decided the number of qualities isn’t as important as saying what I wanted to say. My wife also told me that I was quite clever in my solution to the final quality being solitude. She almost never tells me I’m clever even when I think I’m being clever so that has me feeling really positive about this post. 🙂 With that said, let’s delve into solitude.

I am going to break this down in a more organized way, but let’s talk about some general things first. You might first think that, “Hey aren’t we humans social animals? You’ve been going on a lot in this series about how we can all better get along and have empathy, so why should solitude be so important?” If you’ve raised a child you of course have seen the changes from a baby still thinking it’s in the womb and not knowing it is separate from the mother, to a slow buildup of a sense of self. From then on as parents we try to help the child along to develop a sense of independence. To sleep alone, to be able to do simple physical tasks and to enjoy playing on their own as they gain more and more self-sufficiently. And as a child I remember not only being proud as I could do more things on my own, but actually growing to appreciate and like having time to myself, free from responsibilities to anyone. It seems to me that everybody, no matter how social they might be, to be healthy, need some alone time. Healthy relationships often aren’t ones where both people spend every single moment together, but where each have some hobbies and things that they like to do on their own. Everybody needs their space. What we do in this solitude varies and I am going to talk about 3 different facets of solitude that I think are all important, and I do think have a common thread. So let’s begin:

Creation

It takes a little more humility to mention that I owe this important aspect of solitude to my wife. I am not an overly creative person, but when she mentioned the importance of solitude to the creative process I realized she was right. While artists and musicians certainly collaborate, the initiation of that creative process is usually done alone and then ideas are bounced back and forth with those that are collaborating. Walk into any museum and count how many pieces in that museum have more than one artist listed there. You won’t find many. How many of your favorite novels have multiple authors on the front cover? How many of your favorite poems are written by more than one person? We may be inspired by others when we create, but ultimately what we create is done I solitude. I also don’t want to arbitrarily separate the arts and sciences, it is just generally more easily seen in the arts. Collaboration and feedback is a very important part of the scientific process, but often the vision and inspiration that starts a new idea is formed through thinking in solitude. Scientific history is littered with important scientists whose vision and inspiration excited the scientific community and progressed their respective fields forward. My blog posts are often inspired by conversations, articles or books.  However it often takes some solitude to think about what I want to say and write. Even if during that process I talk it over with others as I have done with this blog post, in the end solitude has played an important part in the creative process.

Recharge

Regardless of the seemingly infinite things we can think of to do, we are sadly quite finite creatures. Our time and energy have limits and many of us are constantly trying to get the most amount out of our day and not getting enough down time. I’ve already discussed the importance of play, and certainly this is important in reducing stress and giving us more strength face to the challenges of life, but there is also the simple act of rest. Resting your muscles and resting your mind. One of the ways we do this of course is simply through sleep. I know few people who don’t love a good night’s rest, and more and more I hear many people wishing they could have more (including myself). According to the National Sleep Foundation, we aren’t getting enough, and this leads to all sorts of problems such as increased weight gain, loss of focus, anxiety, and overall being less efficient as we could be. Whether you are sleeping with someone or not, sleeping is an activity that is done in solitude. It is your time to be unconscious and recharging your “energy cells” and freshening the mind. Getting better sleep may give you less waking hours in the day, but chances are you will be more focused and efficient during those hours such that time will not be lost and may actually be gained.

Meditation

Sleep, however, is not the only way in which we can rest and recharge. One of the other ways in which we can gain energy is through meditation. Now meditation can be defined in a number of different ways, but all of them have benefits and I will talk a little bit about them throughout this post, but for now when many people think of meditation they think of some bald headed person in a robe sitting down in a lotus position and saying ‘om’ a lot, and I admit I used to be from this camp too at one point. And that type of meditation is beneficial, as it clears the mind and rests the body. By focusing on sound, or your own breathing you can rest and recharge. Recent studies have shown meditation to actually change the brain in a positive way.  Daily meditations may also simply involve sitting on your patio drinking a cup of tea while you look at your garden, going on a walk as you take in the sights and sounds of the moment, and it can also involve repetitive activities such as exercise. Repetitive actions keep you focused on the task at hand keeping you in the moment. Exercise is one of the better ways to do this of course because you must focus on the movements and muscles needed to perform the task and this is actually restful to the mind as much of the clutter and stresses of our everyday life can fade away. The well-known “runner’s high” is a good example of this. Of course when you first start to exercise this may be difficult as your body adjust itself to the activity as you may actually experience a lot of pain and/or be uncomfortable and this can be distracting. But this is why meditative activities require regular practice. You aren’t going to be good at it right away and the health benefits take time to come to fruition. I feel that one of the hardest things for people who begin to exercise is they never push through the phase in which it is painful, and tiring as they find they have less energy. But it does get better, and I’ve seen it happen for myself and for others.

If you exercise at a busy gym, or listen to music while exercise this may actually diminish some of the meditative aspects of the exercise as you may start to focus on other things and become distracted. I’ve seen many people pause their treadmill just to text somebody and so I doubt they are getting much of the meditative benefits of exercise, but exercise is still good of course. Being physically healthy gives you more energy and helps you recharge more effectively. Being physically tired is also an aid in getting better sleep which is important as mentioned above. Silence is also a helpful part of the meditative process. Of course complete silence is difficult, but relative quiet may help you pay attention to sounds you don’t often notice like the sound of your own breathing, the babbling of a brook, or the twitter of birds. In previous posts I have talked a lot about the importance of being in the present and this is the one the great advantages of meditation. We can’t always be serene and peaceful, but taking time out of our day to quiet the noise of our everyday lives is important and is something we do in solitude.

introspection2The dictionary also defines meditation as continued or extended thought, reflection and contemplation. This is the sort of meditation I do a lot. For better or worse I suppose as I am frequently lost in thought unaware of what’s  going on, which is bad for activities like driving, or paying attention to your spouse when she is talking to you. This type of meditation is our natural scientist at work. Whether we are reflecting on our own actions, searching through the past for understanding, issues of the day, or just things that we’re learning, thinking deeply about things is a positive activity.  It is our way of helping us see how we can do things better in our lives (humility), what changes we like to make about ourselves (courage), what questions we still have and thus areas we need to understand better (curiosity), trying to understand the actions of others (love/empathy), or setting aside our worries and stresses about future events (faith). In the scientific method it is the final stage that allows us to make adjustments to our original hypothesis and form new ones. Thus our introspection, outrospection, and contemplation ensures that we continue to grow and change in an ever changing world. We may even may take time to plan activities that are both fun, and those that help us better have time to ourselves (play and solitude). And meditation like this and what I described above is something we should try to do every day (vigilance/perseverance).

These meditative activities are all performed in solitude. Even if we don’t get much alone time during the day, 15-30 minutes of meditation can be an important part of good health and if needed, keep the creative juices flowing. If you are constantly surrounded by people your only time for this might just be a nice long shower, or a satisfying crap on the toilet, but in all likelihood you appreciate that time to be alone with your thoughts. Mix that all in with a good night’s sleep and conquering the day may not be seem so daunting, even if it isn’t easy. The amount of solitude that everyone needs for a good sense of well-being I’m sure varies, but I think it’s important that we try to give ourselves that time if possible. In doing so we can gain increased feelings of serenity, understanding, and peace which will help us fight battles in the present instead of the impossible task of winning future ones. The dark side of solitude in the extreme is known, I’m sure, to all. We are a social species and whether you want just a few good friends, or be the life of a party we shine the most in the company of others. Few of us could live the life of a hermit.  We do best when we are cooperating, collaborating, and helping. Too much solitude can make us feel lonely, often worse is that feeling of solitude when surrounded by others. Like the other qualities the down side of solitude comes to fruition when we don’t practice the other 7 qualities in this series in some balanced way. And it is possible that what makes solitude good is some security in knowing that solitude isn’t our only option. That we have other treasured people in our life that we can depend on when we no longer wish to be alone.

This series has been long and if you’ve taken the time to read all of it, I do thank you, but I cannot sum it all up in just a sentence or two so I will have one more post in which I will try to take a more holistic view of them all, and take a critical look at how this intellectual exercise of mine doesn’t always mesh well with reality.

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25 thoughts on “What Makes A Good Human?: Solitude

  1. Love this! This series has been very insightful and beneficial. Very motivating too! I think solitude is necessary especially for me as an introvert and artist I crave my alone time- and it makes me appreciate the time with my loved ones even more ❤️Well said!

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      1. 😎❤️ hope you have been well! I have been in and out of blogosphere lots of fam in and out past couple weeks and cookouts and trips to beach- my skin tone is starting to look less transparent and more normal lol

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          1. Yes next time you’re up in south Cackalack you should join us!! 😄😎 don’t know if I’ll be headed to Mississippi while weathers still warm- we may go to Texas for Christmas and drive through then.

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      1. I haven’t figured it out either lol! I think I accidentally selected an option and screwed up something lol
        I’ll see if I can fix it when I log in on my computer next time- I’m on iPhone so it doesn’t give me options to select on here

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        1. Linden, sounds to me like you may have accidentally blocked him. When WP made new changes to the reader I noticed that one could easily select “block site” which is right below “visit site”. There were a lot of complaints about this, so now WP has added a second “visit” option at the bottom right. If you are on your phone, I can see how that could have easily happen.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you for telling me about that because I get on here a lot on my phone and I have also accidentally unfollowed people because clicking and scrolling too fast and “fat fingering” the screen 😂 I’m going to have to see if I blocked anyone 😯 lol

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  2. Yet, another informative and thoughtful post, Swarn. I think being in solitude was what really helped me get through the greatest trials of my life.

    It was in solitude that I counted the cost of the major decisions in my life that would take me out of my comfort zone and catapult me on a new path of uncertainty and adventure.

    It was in solitude that I found emotional healing during and after my deconversion.

    It was in solitude where I spent hours in research about humanity, which helped me become more outrospective and empathetic.

    It was in solitude where my authentic self blossomed and I saw my inner beauty.

    It was in solitude where I found inner peace.

    It was in solitude where I learned the importance and necessity of connection.

    This was my favorite post in your series. I agree with Maggie—you were quite clever. Talk about going out with a bang. 😉

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and sharing how solitude helped you. I’ve felt similar experiences in solitude also. Originally this post was just going to be about reflection, but as I thought about rest, and have been learning more about meditation in general, I realized there was more to say than the act of analyzing our own thoughts and behavior. And yet I felt there was a common thread amongst all those things. It’s funny how the answer was actually there even though I didn’t realize it at first. I was going over these things in my mind, as I often do before I fall asleep at night, where there is silence and I was alone with my own thoughts. I’ll have some more reflections when I wrap it up. The act of writing and creation of this series in solitude has also been meditative and made me focus some of the realities people face that make these qualities hard to practice, and also made me realize a lot about what ways I need to improve also. I am really thinking about getting into meditation, even if it’s just for a short time each day. I am curious to simply experience it, and I’ve learned enough about it now, such that I feel I can approach it with an open mind. Perhaps the experience will give me more to write about. 🙂

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      1. “It’s funny how the answer was actually there even though I didn’t realize it at first.”

        Indeed. We live in the most stimulating time in history, so we have to make a special effort to unplug. Back in 2005 I took a month off of life, literally. I spent the whole time solitude. No TV, no phone, no computer. Most of that time was spent reading, observing and contemplating.

        It profoundly changed my life. I didn’t try to stop thinking, and I didn’t know anything about traditional meditation. I simply became aware of my thoughts because there wasn’t so much stuff distracting me.. By day 28 I had what I can only describe as an interhemispheric intrusion. It took me a couple of years to understand, neurologically, what happened on that cool November day. My mind went completely silent. It was the first time in my life that ever happened (a silent mind) and since then, I am no longer burdened by excessive mind chatter which I had plagued me for most of my life.

        Shortly afterwards, I became aware of my internal dialogs, and it was at that point that I realized I had looping dialog going on inside my head that I wasn’t aware of before. They were disadvantageous — negative subconscious self-talk. Most likely due to the negative messages I got when I was a Christian. After that experience I also became aware that I was constantly multitasking. From that day forward, I stopped burning candles at both ends. For the first time in my life, as an adult, I fully felt aware and alive.

        So yeah, your post gets a huge thumbs up from me. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That sounds amazing. I definitely have to disconnect more. Since my phone doesn’t work here, I’ve been rarely aware of the time when I go out. This has also been nice. I think there are many paths to achieve meditative states, one doesn’t necessarily need to prescribe to any standard techniques, but I do think it takes patience and a persistent effort to making solitude a regular part of your life.

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  3. My old job as a commercial diver was awesome in many ways. I loved every day going to work, it was physically exhausting, and laborous work. Yet I loved it. It was stressful at time with fluctuating prices and buyers would stop buying on a days notice. I still loved it. Why? Lots of why’s but it’s time to get to the point. When you drop down into the void of dark water, you lose sense of time, digging shell becomes second nature, and your brain is free to contemplate. The only distractions being the air bubbles around your head and a passing boat or three. Hours and hours of solitude each and every day. Being on the river, living the life I’ve lived, looking across the water, running from the storms, and enjoying the solitude, I would not trade for a rich mans paradise.

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  4. I really liked your post, I found it very clear and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the section titled “recharge”. I agree that as humans we are delicate, and it can be too easy to put an unhealthy amount of pressure on ourselves – It’s definitely important to find time to rest. I also enjoyed reading the section on meditation – I don’t know much about it – but you explain it very well here. It seems to have such a positive effect on the mind and body.
    You talk a lot about alone time which I like very much, I agree that although we take inspiration from others, it is ourselves alone who give us the best result.

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    1. Thank you Daisy for reading and for your kind comments. We are delicate…and it’s rather annoying. If I wasn’t delicate maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed by it. lol

      I am very much interested in what seem to be dualities in humanity, specifically the idea of self vs. the collective. I am convinced that the self is an illusion in the sense that knowing ourselves is a learned behavior that has been demonstrated to start as infants by getting to know others. So we constantly compare and contrast to know who we are. Yet there does seem to be certain qualities for which the individual is wholly responsible for and creativity seems to be one of those. I didn’t mean to imply so much that it gives us the best result, but more that this is how the process just seems to work..at an individual level. Nevertheless we also can’t deny that inspiration comes from elsewhere so it’s rather a symbiotic relationship rather than one that exist exclusively…if that makes any sense! 🙂

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        1. Thank you! Unfortunately some of the papers I read on the subject are not available on-line, but it seems to additionally make some intuitive sense to me as well. Watching my son from birth to toddler I see this self-awareness grow from an entity who still thought it was part of its mother body to a little human with a personality that he is starting become more aware of in context of the other personalities he observes in his life. It’s fascinating to watch! 🙂

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