The Blessing of Solitude

Image courtesy of 1st Art Gallery

Maybe it seems a strange thing to call a blessing. Being alone is so often put down in today’s extrovert society. The importance of solitude, however, is often overlooked.

Solitude is not so narrowly defined as only simply being alone. One can be alone and not have solitude. No, solitude describes being alone and at peace or in meditation. It means that you are calm and allowing your own thoughts, prayers, and meditations to speak. It is not narcissistic or at least it shouldn’t be. It is therapeutic. It is not exclusive to introverts either. Everyone can benefit from time spent alone in quiet away from the stress of everyday life.

If it so beneficial, why is it overlooked?

My recent shuttle bus ride on campus answered this question. I do not take the bus much due to the fact that I’d rather walk the mile from the commuter parking lot to the foreign language building on campus than wait on a bus. However, the other morning I was forced to take the bus because my parking lot was closed due to an event. Being so used to my quiet walk, the noise of a crammed bus full of students was a bit of a shock to my fatigued self.

It’s not that I’m socially awkward, but due to my rather secluded life the last several weeks leading up to my thesis defense, I was not prepared for the noise and the feeling of restlessness I sensed. Just about every student on there was doing something on his/her phone while talking loudly. I could hear music booming from headphones (someone’s going to be deaf before the age of 30), people were yelling above the noise of the bus about weekend plans, facebook status updates, annoying professors (Didn’t spot any of my students, so that was good! Whew!), who’s going with who, “OMG”, and on and on. It’s a normal day on the bus at a university, what’s the big deal? The big deal is the obsession with technology, the rush, the inability to just have quiet, the constant need and thirst for social acceptance, and just the overall feeling of restlessness. Maybe it’s just the introvert in me, but I was so glad to get out of that bus when my stop came up.

I don’t condemn people for liking noise and feeling the need to be constantly busy doing something since everyone is different. However, I often wonder if they ever just sit and have a moment of quiet away from the stress of the world rushing past. We’ve become so addicted to technology that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to sit quietly and enjoy the company of a book or even just to reflect on the good points of the day or on a verse we read.

A Resolution for Quiet?

Berthe Morisot  - Young Girl Writing 1891 PaintingA friend asked me a few hours before the beginning of 2013 what my resolutions were for the new year. Without hesitation I looked at her and told her that it may sound funny but my only main resolution for the year was to have more quiet time. She smiled knowing how busy my life is right now. I haven’t been very successful in that resolution so far though.

I took this blessing of solitude for granted. What little solitude I had was overcome by the thesis over the last couple of weeks. I naively thought the week leading up to the thesis would be no crazier than any other week of graduate school. I’m sure those of you who have done a thesis are probably having a good chuckle right now. My thesis being written in French instead of English was the greatest challenge. The ideas I had weren’t necessarily always the problem, my form of presenting them was since I’m not a native speaker of French.

My professor dropped the bomb on me about 8 days before the defense when he handed me my first chapter covered in blue and black ink indicating my multiple mistakes and sentences that needed to be reformulated. He went over it with me and said that he wanted it fixed and on his desk by the next morning. My mouth dropped open, and I said “But, I have a late night class tonight!” He looked at me and frankly said “Stacey, you’re not going to be getting much sleeping  this week.I wish I could say I’m sorry, but it’s not your fault and it’s not my fault. It’s just the way it is the week leading up to a defense.”

He wasn’t kidding. The rest of the week leading up to the defense just got increasingly stressful and difficult trying to get my thesis fixed and ready. My poor professor was exhausted as well from hours spent correcting over 100 pages of French. It’s not that my French is horrible, I just don’t know all of the stylistic rules for academic writing or sometimes even how to properly translate an analysis into French. I’m told that these kind of corrections are normal for a non-native speaker such as myself.

I didn’t realize how important solitude was to my well-being until it was no longer within my reach.

Not surprisingly, I had no solitude in the midst of this insanity. Sure, I was mainly alone flipping through multiple pages of corrections, double-checking sources, looking up alternate words in the dictionary, and typing constantly, but it was not solitude. By the end of that week, I was an exhausted wreck. My friends and fellow graduate students were rather worried about me. I assured them in my half-asleep Franglais speech that I’d be fine, I was just in labor trying to give birth to a thesis.

Through it all, I missed my quiet time. I yearned to get away and just write in my journal and synthesize all that was going on, but who has time for that when one is frantically trying to meet a deadline? It’s not been until after the defense that things have started to slow down a little. Sure, I’m having to catch up on work for my other classes and have a few things left to correct before officially submitting my thesis to the graduate school, but today was the first day where I could just enjoy solitude. I have done what I felt like I wanted to do today instead of forcing myself to write a paper that’s due in the next few days. I’ve just enjoyed being home and having quiet both mentally and physically. I didn’t realize how truly important this silence was until it was obviously no longer attainable. However, maybe now that new year’s resolution is still possible since I have about 9 more months left in the year.

So, be sure in the midst of your crazy life, to just set aside some time for solitude. It is in those moments that you will truly discover some of what you really think and who you really are.

As Sir Francis Bacon put it:

“It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else, and still unknown to himself.”

Although I agree with Sir Francis, I’d like to take it a step further. It is an even more sad fate for a man to die both unknown to himself and without a relationship with His Creator. For it is in these moments of solitude that we can hear His still small voice and meditate on His Word and His great love. Don’t neglect the blessing of solitude, my friends.

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