The Call of Solitude

Psychology Today has a nice article on the Call of Solitude, in which it argues a lack of solitude can block creativity, peace of mind, and deep relationships.

I’m a big fan of alone time, especially if I’m facing a meaty decision or need an extra strong burst of creativity. Solitude is also a key component of my "spirituality" — a term I use without quite knowing what it means. What I do know is that peacefulness is good for the soul.

Here’s a telling graf from the article:

"I’m away from office and won’t be back for a week. The machine is   not set up to record incoming messages." This is what you may hear when you   call Peter Suedfeld, Ph.D., a University of British Columbia psychologist   who studies solitude–and is well-attuned to the benefits of time alone. In   researching the effects of sensory deprivation–the ultimate   alonetime–Suedfeld found that after just one hour in a dark flotation   tank, people show lower blood pressure, higher mental functioning, enhanced   creativity, and a more positive mental outlook.

"My research implies that people are chronically stimulated, both   socially and physically, and are probably operating at a stimulation level   higher than that for which our species evolved," Suedfeld says. His   recommendation: limit the assault of modern technology, as he does with his   phone message, to allow for more time alone.

On a related point, Paul Throsey had a sub-par and bizarre op/ed in the New York Times yesterday on "America the Overfull" which noted that each year more people inhabit the earth, which means more crowding (and thus, solitude a more elusive goal).

2 comments on “The Call of Solitude
  • Ben, you’re absolutely right. In fact, solitude is one of the most important aspects of creativity. In his book, The Courage To Create, Rollo May delineated two “phases” of creative thought:
    – the first consists of hard work, intaking information, and playing around with various intuitions and cognitive connections
    – the second occurs only when you aren’t intaking this new information, and is the phase during which all of these ideas consolidate in your mind and the true creative connections occur.

    This second step is similar to what happens during sleep, and is responsible for those “eureka” moments that occur when in the shower or lying in bed. All these ideas begin to “settle”, and real changes take place. Unfortunately, this subconscious work is largely overlooked by our societal institutions.

    P.S. I’m not sure if I’d recommend the book – it’s a bit slow to start, but it certainly does raise some good points. However, it’s quite old (30 years or so), so there are probably books that have taken that book’s major ideas further.

  • I take a one hour solitary walk every day, and it’s possibly the single best thing I do for stimulating creativity and working through issues. Whatever it is, an hour alone putting one leg in front of the other will usually bring me clarity and perspective.

    Have a look at The Wonders of Solitude, a collection of quotations on stillness, solitude and contemplation etc. Very nice to have laying around.

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