Sunday, June 01, 2014

Step Back

Solitude is a lost art in these days of ultra-connectedness, and while I don’t bemoan the beauty of this global community, I do think there’s a need to step back from it on a regular basis. -- Leo Babauta

The desire to be included and valued as part of a group is basic human nature, and there's nothing wrong with that. I love hanging out here with my writer and reader friends, and in real life I'm an active member of a quilt conservators guild. This month I'm also trying out an online class (unrelated to writing) and just joined a discussion/accountability group made up of other students. I think any quality time spent with colleagues and friends who appreciate or share your passion is never wasted, and with our hyper-connectedness these days it's easy enough to arrange.

All these connections are having one serious negative effect, however, in that they're eliminating our ability (and by extension, our desire) to be alone. Stop for a minute and think about the last time you spent a day alone without using a computer or a smart phone; when you didn't bother to update your Facebook status or twit or otherwise social mediate. How long has it really been? A week, a month? A year? Longer?

Being part of a group can be fun, and may contribute quite a bit to your creativity and your self-esteem. I'm not a huge fan of most groups, but I do know how nice it is to belong to something important to you, and work or socialize with others who share your passion. On the flip side, you can become dependent on a group in ways you might not realize. People in a group tend to mimic each other's behavior, for example, as any hashtag campaign on Twitter will illustrate. This is not a bad thing when the tone is positive or encouraging, but when it's the opposite the dynamics can be draining, distressing or even toxic. There's also a basic instinct in most people to let more aggressive and outspoken members of any group set the tone and tenor of things, and to follow their lead rather than initiating one -- even when you don't agree with that direction. Aka it's easier to go along with things and keep the peace versus standing up for yourself and going against the group.

You don't have to deal with any of that when you seek solitude, which is why it opens you up creatively. You may be on your own, but everything you do on your own is genuinely yours. You're not obliged to invite or cater to other opinions, or fall in line behind someone else's lead. You're the leader, and the only person you have to please (or discuss anything with) is yourself. In solitude you do not have to be clever or "on" or otherwise perform in any way for anyone, either; you can be your true self.

If you'd like to find out more about the benefits of solitude, Psychology Today has an interesting article here, and I think Leo Babauta's Zenhabits article Solitude is also worth a read.

Image credit: Liang Zhang/


  1. My brother and his partner take every Sunday as a digital-free day. I think it's a great idea, and it's helped a lot with their levels of stress, as well as their connectedness to loved ones.

  2. I know exactly when I had my last a solitude day. Monday 26th May - its a bank holiday here and my son was at work so I had the day all to myself. I spent it reading or sewing or cleaning up the odd bits & pieces I could be bothered with. I didn't even turn on the TV for background noise or put music on. Just silence - apart from the ambient noise outside. I really enjoy those days but perhaps I should acknowledge them in some way to make them more special.

  3. When I walk my dogs, I deliberately don't take music and keep my phone in my pocket. It's a short time, but the time I spend simply walking and noticing is very balancing to my mental health.

  4. Thank you for this post. It really struck a chord with me.

  5. I was on another blog and found this video poem called "Look Up", which reminded me of this post and I had to share it with you. Excellent & poetic, if a video can be such a thing. Check it out:


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