by Lesley Meriwether
"Solitude is the best nurse of wisdom." -- LAWRENCE STERNE
SOLITUDE OFFERS US AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE WITH ourselves, to know ourselves better and to access our inner thoughts and creativity. Yet we avoid it.
How easy is it to be alone?
When I asked George, 28, an entrepreneur, if he ever had time to himself, he replied, "No, not really, there is always someone to call or someplace to go." Even in his car -- a potential alone place -- he uses his cellular phone.
When I asked Ann, 38, a secretary, wife and mother, if she had time alone, she replied, "Only in the bathroom, and sometimes not even then." Solitude is rare in their lives and is considered a luxury.
If you find you have no time for yourself, you may in fact be avoiding yourself. It's pretty easy to fill our time with events, chores and other people. The problem with this is that things accumulate within us and eventually emerge. If you haven't checked in with yourself in a long time, you may begin to feel overwhelmed or out of touch. Then anger or exhaustion can set in, or you might get physically ill.
The fear of loneliness, boredom or the idea that you are wasting precious time may keep you from spending time alone, but solitude is really a necessity and ought to be considered a basic right rather than a rare privilege. If it is not happening frequently enough in your own life, you may have to plan for it just as you do other appointments. Marking it on your calender or diary will help you remember it.
If you have trouble being alone, you can start with short periods of time such as a half-hour walk or going out for a cup of coffee alone. It's not true that you have to be isolated to have solitude, although many people prefer it. Others are more comfortable with their own thoughts if others are nearby, even if they are strangers.
If you had a whole day to yourself, what would you do with it? Even if this is not possible at this time, plan a day. If a day is too long, plan for or take just part of a day. Even thinking about this brings you closer to the concept of solitude.
How about your kids? Do they have unstructured time alone? We are all familiar with the concept of "time out," when a child is told to take some time away from others. Unfortunately, this is often viewed as a punishment when it is really a gift.
Begin giving time alone to children as infants. If someone is always with them, entertaining and stimulating them, then they will not learn the art of being comfortable alone. If you have older children, you can introduce this notion at anytime.
Many of my patients use this concept for themselves as well as saying, "Mom (or Dad) is taking a time out," and retreating out of harm's way for a few minutes. This is not only solitude, but breathing space, a time to collect your wits, thoughts or emotions.
Henry David Thoreau was a man who was comfortable alone in quiet places. As he said in "Walden," "I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude."
Unfortunately, at this time in my life, my plea to you must be, "Don't do as I do, do as I say." Resolve, along with me, to take more time this summer to be alone with your own voice and gain the wisdom solitude offers.
Lesley Meriwether is a registered nurse and psychotherapist with the Arcata Family Medical Group.