Solitude: Where Your Life is Waiting

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” – Hans Margolius

It’s no secret that we are bombarded everyday with countless messages. In America alone, advertising is a $412 billion/year industry that is constantly telling us what to watch, where to go, and what to purchase. Their messages fill our televisions, radios, computers, newspapers, magazines, and morning commutes. The industry gladly spends this money because they know over time, they will shape our minds, hearts, and spending habits. Add all of the political pundits and experts filling our airwaves telling us how we should think… and it becomes increasingly clear that we are bombarded nearly every moment of our lives with messages that others want us to hear and believe.

All of these messages inevitably begin to shape our lives. Our heart and mind is indeed influenced by the messages that enter through our eyes and ears. And our life is slowly whittled away and re-formed by the loudest voices that get through (it’s no reason they are shouting so loud for our attention).

Whether you are pursuing a “less is more” lifestyle or just trying to find more health and fulfillment in your life, you will find countless benefits from embracing a discipline of solitude.

Solitude provides opportunity to rediscover our lives. By “electing to intentionally withdraw from human relationships for a period of time,” we are able to remove the shaping influence of others and recenter our hearts on our deepest values. We are able to evaluate the assumptions, claims, and messages of our culture. Often times, we realize that these shaping forces have been incorrect all along. And we have lost our lives because of them.

Consider that when we embrace solitude…

  • We intentionally remove the influence of others for period of time.
  • We intentionally remove the expectations of others.
  • We are able to hear our own heart speak.
  • We find rest and refreshment.
  • We discover that others can live without us.
  • We find that the world does not rest on our shoulders.
  • We can adequately reflect on our past and chart our future.
  • We break the cycle of busyness in our lives.
  • We become better equipped to show patience with others.
  • We feed our souls.

While anyone can practice solitude at any given time by just finding a quiet place to sit for an extended period of time, I have found these tips to be particularly helpful in developing a discipline of concentrated solitude:

  1. Give yourself enough time. If you are just starting, try 30 minutes. Typically, the first 15 minutes are filled with a busy mind still running fast. But after about 15 minutes, your mind will slow down enough to offer you deep reflection. And the longer you give it, the deeper it will go.
  2. Schedule time. If you are just hoping for an extra 30-45 minutes to show up in your day for solitude, it’ll never come. Time for solitude must be desired, scheduled, and created.
  3. Find a calm location. Your surroundings will make a big difference. Avoid “fast-paced” locations such as offices, kitchens, or any place that reminds you of work. Also keep in mind that you’ll find solitude more fulfilling if your space is uncluttered.
  4. Take as little as possible with you.
  5. Just allow your mind to wander. There are no set rules concerning what you should be thinking about. Just let your mind wander. As I mentioned, it will skip around at the very beginning. But eventually, your mind will settle in on something that your heart has been trying to tell you all along.
  6. Don’t quit just because you don’t like what you find. The journey into our heart is not always a pretty one. Sometimes when we start pulling back the layers of our heart and realize our deepest motivations, we don’t like what we see. This can be difficult for some and cause even more to stop altogether. But, don’t. A richer, fuller life is just around the corner.
  7. Don’t worry if you fall asleep. While solitude is different than napping, if you consistently find yourself falling asleep during these quiet periods, your mind may be trying to tell you something. And you should probably listen.
  8. Pray. If you are spiritual, certainly use this time to connect with God. If you are not spiritual, solitude just may put you more in touch with God if you are open to it. Because God often speaks with a small voice that is drowned out by the world’s noise, we can’t hear it until we intentionally listen for it.

Give solitude a chance. You’ve got nothing to lose. And your life to gain back.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Personally, ending my belief in gods brought a great deal of peace and solitude to my life. Being able to shed arbitrary moral impositions was a big part of it. Realizing that humans were not specially created by a benevolent father figure allowed me to shed a lot of ego. Most of all, the freedom to accept scientific advances that would have previously conflicted with my old religion’s codes gave me a lot of reasons to be optimistic about humanity’s future.

    • says

      Thanks for the input, Ray. There are, of course, no spiritual requirements for the enjoyment of solitude. It’s just an added element that many people find in it. And I believe that prayer can be beneficial for the soul with or without the existence of a God.

      • prufock says

        And if you also don’t believe in souls? Can we change that to “well-being”? Not necessarily sure I agree even then, though if people choose to meditate that way I don’t object.

        • Arron says

          We should focus on the message, not the details that seperate us. Call it prayer, call it meditation, call it Billy Bob’s quite time or whatever else we want…..we sometimes need to just take the time to sit, in quiet, and focus on our sense of self that is often lost within this busy, mad world.

      • vee says

        “And I believe that prayer can be beneficial for the soul with or without the existence of a God.”

        ??
        Are you a follower of Christ?

        • steph says

          You don’t need to be trying to reach God to pray. Praying is an act of visualisation and focus. That which we want to happen can, and will, if we dedicate time in our lives to focusing on it and aligning ourselves with the desire and the motivation behind it.

          If prayer, for you, means connecting with God – or any god or deity you believe in, or Christ – that’s how you pray. But the act and art of prayer is not solely a Christian act. It’s a human act which connects us to something deeper. One doesn’t have to believe in a specific version of events to feel that connection to the universe as a whole.

  2. says

    My time of solitute is in the early morning. I wake up at 6 am and then ride my bike off town, for 3 miles, with a backpack filled with a blanket, water and my Bible. I then sit on the grass for almost an hour and enjoy the nature’s sound and have enough time to pray. Sometimes when I wake up earlier I get to see an incredible sunset. I find this the best way to start your day by getting some movement done with the bike and by having some time to clear your mind for the rest of the day ahead of you.

    • says

      Andrei,
      That sounds SO awesome! I actually spent some time today at a state park, natural setting, very quiet. Sat for about an hour just listening to the sound of nothing, did some yoga stretches and breathing. Speaking to God, it was fantastic! I enjoyed it so much and then I read what you do. It got me to thinking, I live near a lake in a very quiet area. I think I will get up at sunrise on a regular basis and go over and have my quiet time there, do my yoga, and then walk the nature trail. What a perfect way to start my days!

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your practice of solitude. I wrote about the need for a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal in my book on spiritual disciplines, “o2: Breathing New Life into Faith” ( http://amzn.to/9dmzBE ) I can’t believe the enormous difference it makes in one’s daily living if we simply slow down, breathe deeply, and allow the Voice to speak to us in the midst of silence and solitude.

  3. Juhani says

    Nice article. I believe in meditation and spend quite a lot of time in solitude myself. Where some of my friends seem to dread the whole idea of being alone (they mention their mind beginning to wander off to negative spheres, which is quite normal if one is not used to being alone), I cherish it as a time of being able to be more “real” than during “normal” hours spent out in society, where social pressure gets in the way of acting out your true self. Solitude equals freedom to me, and while I don´t believe in Sartre´s “hell is other people” (quite the contrary, in fact), I believe a certain amount of time for oneself per day is crucially beneficial to mental health and being able to focus and staying positive.

  4. says

    I am an only child so I am used to and enjoy my moments of solitude. For me, my mind is the most quiet very late at night around 1 am or 2 am. Or early in the morning around 4:30 am or 5 am. Waking up at early is a different story :) but when I do, it’s when my mind is the least active and most calm.

    Also I think another thing I like to do during solitude is journaling. I think writing whatever is on my mind and just getting it out onto paper sort of empties all the thoughts, feelings, whatevers going on and my mind is a lot more still.

  5. Laura says

    I have really enjoyed learning more about ‘the simple life’ through this website..thanks for providing it! I recently spent a week camping by a beautiful mountain river with my dog and my bible. It was quiet, beautiful and awesome. True, it reminded me of the important work I still need to be doing in my heart, but also provided permission for rest and just ‘being’.

    • Inmy says

      We are, after all, human BEINGS….not human DOINGS. When our kids were little & I needed a break I just let them & my spouse know I was going into “Pope Status” for ____minutes….meaning do not interrupt me, leave me alone…I did not want to talk to anyone…except MAYBE if the Pope called. Worked like a charm. You have to enjoy your own company (solitude) , for if YOU don’t then how do you expect others to enjoy you? I don’t enjoy being with others if they are afraid of being with themselves.

  6. says

    # 4 Rocks! I am practicing that one right now. I just sold my house (for a lot less than I paid for it, I might add) and am down to around 10 boxes. When I’m down to a suitcase, I’m ready to head to the Philippines.

    Yea!

    • Marja says

      I’m from the Philippines and I suggest you to go a paradise called Sagada in the Mountain Provinces. It’s a beautiful place for solitary journeys. Meditating atop a hill overlooking rice terraces is pure bliss!

  7. says

    Great post, Joshua. Reminds me of the writings of Thomas Merton, who embraced solitude as a pathway for a lifetime of comtemplative living. Now, we don’t all have to live as ascetics to accomplish this, but looking to others for inspiration certainly helps.

  8. says

    Great article, Joshua. I have been finding more joy and contentment in spending time alone. I don’t enjoy the pull I feel when my friends want to do popular things, like go shopping or out to bars all the time.

    I’m definitely more at peace when it’s just me and my thoughts and I don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone or having to defend myself. Thank you for sharing!

  9. says

    Joshua,

    These are excellent tips for embracing solitude. I love solitude. It nourishes me like food. It’s amazing to see how difficult it is for people to give themselves alone time. We are so used to being on 24-7. Thanks for the encouraging ideas.

  10. says

    Great article, it reminds me that I do not do enough quiet time. I have a meditation rug that will go with me when I do some hiking. You never know when you come across a spot to get unplugged from everything.

  11. sue says

    You make it sound so sensible, Joshua. Although I have plenty of solitude, I always feel I have to fill it with useful activities, and hold myself in readiness in case my family need me. I struggle to find any time to meditate.

    Recently I’ve been considering booking on a 6-day retreat, which will get me “away from it all”, but I can’t stop listing pros and cons. The reasons for are personal, selfish, antisocial, subjective. The reasons against are tangible, selfless, reasonable, justifiable.

    Your post makes it all seem possible. Thank you.

  12. says

    Great post. Love the list too. I do believe a lot in prayer, and have carved out 30 minutes of my am time towards meditation/prayer. However, one habit that served me well in the past, and that I may reconsider is to simply sit on the sofa for an hour, reading nothing, watching nothing and not even trying to meditate. Often, meditation takes on a “task” mantle. Sometimes, simply sitting in a chair or couch, and consciously doing nothing is more beneficial to me. Just a thought.

    Stephen
    OwnStream

  13. says

    I JUST finished reading “Solitude: A Philosophical Encounter” by Philip Koch. If you haven’t check it out I highly recommend it. It was enlightening and thought provoking to the max.

  14. says

    I do agree sometimes we need to step back and find our true center. I find that the critical point is to be alone from close relationships while doing this. So spending the day in Boston occasionally without telling friend and just being, going to a cafe and lounging over a latte… Alone while among people whom I do not have a relationship, that is alone time for me.

    • Isaac says

      Hey, I guess we have this habit in common. We don’t have to go to an isolated place to seek solitude. I would usually go to cafe and just sit there all alone savoring the aroma of coffee. Being there just for an hour grants me all the peace I need. I guess solitude can be a different experience for all of us.

  15. Rachel Rauwolf says

    Thank you so much for this. It’s so true and so beautiful. I’m a big fan of your blog.

    P.S. I love what you said about prayer.

  16. I alone says

    I truly enjoy being alone. i often find people think something is wrong with me or I am pathologically incorrect. I don’t try to explain it to them because what’s the point? i often listen to music while alone. Nothing too heavy or loud. Sometimes i listen to mozart or even 30 Seconds To Mars’ first album. very atmospheric and the entire album has a feeling of isolation. but i digress. The feeling of isolation often scared me. i dont know why i didnt start this sooner.

  17. JSR says

    I love this post. I LOVE solitude. I crave it a lot. I don’t mind being around others, mind you, and need that human contact, but being alone is often my desire. My friends and most of my family sometimes find my ability and desire to do things alone strange. Its often hard for me to convince them that I don’t MIND doing such and such alone. But it’s just a part of who I am. Its something I believe that God placed in me.

    • Inmy says

      Some people are actually afraid to spend time with themselves. (NOT ME – I love it). I think sometimes people are afraid to go places & do things alone because they need the opinions of others to validate them & their experiences. Maybe they’re not trusting or are afraid of their own thoughts….and need someone else to tell them what to think.

      • says

        I really like yours and all the comments. the opinion of others, so powerful an influence over what we do. one of the major obstacles. what will they think if I go here or do this on my own? they may think something is wrong with me so I’ll go with someone else when I prefer to be alone or just give in and not go at all. what nonsense we put ourselves through.

  18. K says

    “God” seems to be a generic term for “what is in accordance with your nature” nowadays. Maybe you can just reconnect with your actual human nature and the actual nature of this world (the non-shaped/traditional one).

  19. Tori says

    Spirituality and religion aren’t the same thing. So talking about if you’re spiritual and you want to talk to God isn’t really correct. And God is just one thing. Their might be Buddha, Allah, Mother Earth, or simply Spirit.

  20. Amelia T says

    I agree that the final point doesn’t quite make sense. If you are not spiritual, it is unlikely that you will be put more in touch with God. I have no religion and I think the last point could perhaps slightly alienate people of no religion or of other religions. Not all minimalists are Christians or believe in a God but we can still find solitude and reflect in our own ways.

    • says

      I agree- very good statements and advice except that last point doesn’t quite resonate in the same manner as the others. Being spiritual doesn’t require a God or a religion. My hunch is if this older blog post could be edited or revised- it probably would have – and it might be better understood and accepted if the word spiritual was replaced by religious or God was replaced by some sort of “higher power” or “universal energy”. But then again any label or term for this will be limiting and potentially alienating. I do sense however the sentiment of this blog post is not judgmental or exclusionary- but kind and generous :)

  21. Josh says

    Great post!

    I just want to say thank you for what you do on this blog. Since recently ‘converting’ to minimalism back in June, I have learned a lot about myself and about life… and I can safely say that I have never looked back, not even once! Every day I learn a little bit more about what it means to live simply and with intention, and your blog has been a constant source of support and positivity for me as I strive to find myself in a world filled with friends, family members, and aquaintances who simply don’t seem to understand the concept or what it really means.

    Of course, as I move forward I realize more and more that what others think of my choice to live a minimalist lifestyle is inconsequential, but I will say that I am extremely grateful for your blog, not only because it gives me a sense of community and a connection with other minimalists, but also because it encourages me to continue to get to know myself for what I really am and for what I really want in a world where we are constantly told who to be by everyone else.

    Anyway, long story short, I just want to return some of the encouragement, and to say thank you for doing what you do on this blog. I read every post, and I learn something new and positive about myself every time I contemplate your words and think about how they might apply to my own life. I believe that you are a very enlightened human being, and I am very thankful for the work that you do on becomingminimalist.com

    Have a great day!
    Josh

  22. Samantha says

    I am not any labelled religion. I am spiritual in that the idea of God to me is my highest self/ consciousness that I spend my lifetime trying to seek. I am happy to say I’ve made peace with any religious ideas coming directly up in my life. I have no judgement except that we all walk our own path & that as a human species, we all have similar journeys & ends, just through different means & ideas.

    Having said this, what got through to me most in this post was every other idea listed. The thought that a “God” exists that is external or not part of me is not an idea I embrace, so to me, it is implied in all other points. I think that listening to our bodies and higher consciousness is what is most important & that is why rational minimalism is what I was missing for so long. To only carry what we need & a few extras through life is true freedom. It gives me time & opportunity to explore myself instead of focusing on meaningless “things” & visual clutter.

  23. Mike says

    Great posts as usual except for the last point

    Please don’t attract the gullible god botherers

    Spiritualism is one thing but organised religion is a very different beast.

  24. Melissa says

    My husband passed away 6 months ago unexpectedly and I have been trying to continue to work and carry on so that I can be a role model for my kids but reading this I believe I do need to take a day a week whilst the kids are at school and daycare to find my own solitude and recharge so I am better for them. It is really about being brave enough to find that solitude for me.

  25. says

    Hi Joshua,
    It was a delight to discover you through a share on Twitter.
    I resonate with your take on solitude. It seems with ever increasing demands on our time, if we are not careful, there will be little left for ourselves, so it’s something we cannot afford to put off. You’re right: solitude is where your life is waiting. This advice will serve to strengthen many more people.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

  26. says

    Great post Joshua, as are the other blogs. I just discovered you and your messages, thanks for sharing. On the value of solitude and mindfulness, I discovered a very useful app that I’ve used and that is very easy to use for those getting started and having difficulties with stepping out of the noise. You can find it at http://www.headspace.com . Good luck to everyone ! Elke

  27. SHAMRAO PAWAR says

    Great Article.I am impressed at the level of thoughts one is able to express.Nobody has to run behind any religion.Your soul is also part of god.You yourself can become your own judge to find out analysis of the issues infront of you.

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