The Value of Solitude

Truth be told, I enjoy travel. Not because of the new sights and sounds, mind you. Those are fine too, but the main reason I enjoy travel – especially by air – is the silence and space.

I can put on my isolation headphones and think, write and process in a way that I can’t when I’m in my normal, hyper-connected mode. The same is true of hotels. I’m writing this from my room in Baltimore, where I’ve produced more quality work in the past day or so than I often do in a week. Why?  I think it’s because my options are limited. I have lots of isolation and quiet.

Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it. – Thomas Merton

With so many options available to us for distraction, it can be easy to forget the importance of making room for thought. Brilliant ideas can be quite expensive, in that they require a lot of space to marinate. It often feels remarkably inefficient to dedicate large amounts of time to processing and thinking, but is very effective if we’re willing to carve out the space in our life for it. 

I loved this piece by Pico Iyer in the New York Times on the importance of finding space for thought. Of methods, he writes:

Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.

Some of my best ideas have come from long walks, hours spent in isolation in a hotel room, or an extended trip to the library to experience the stimulation of tons of data combined with extended silence.

So…question for you. Do you have a method for finding quiet and solitude in your life? What works best?


Photo credit: Montreal 1976



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