Solitude is often misconstrued as loneliness, sadness or social isolation. On the contrary, solitude, according to www.merriam-webster.com, is “a state or situation in which you are alone, usually because you want to be.”
I spend considerable amounts of time at my cottage each summer. My husband commutes to and from work each day. In recent years, my sons have been away for most of the summer, at camp or working in the city. My cottage neighbours are in the city most weekdays. So, it’s just me and my two dachshunds most days. I don’t usually get bored. I read, write, kayak and run. If I want to visit with friends, it’s just a short drive back to Ottawa. Much of the time, I savour the tranquility of country living and value my alone time.
On a typical day, if the weather co-operates, I lie on a chaise lounge on my dock, gazing into the distance, appreciating the gentle ripples sweeping from one side of the lake to the other. Lily pads dot the shoreline, their white and yellow flowers opened to the midday sun, as I, too, welcome the warmth of the sun on my face. I breathe deeply, fully aware of the sounds of my own breath. I feel very calm and my heart beats slower than in the city, because my universe seems calm. All the noise of day-to-day life has been brushed aside. No to-do lists, no schedules, no demands from anyone. The atrocities going on in the world used to seem distant and infrequent, but have become closer to home with a frequency that makes me very anxious. But, at the cottage, I turn off the news and tune it out. It feels good not to think about such things.
When I’m at the lake, surrounded by the woods, I don’t need to work actively on relaxation with meditation. The great blue heron glides gracefully overhead. A woodpecker scurries up a tree, its pecking reminds me of a timpani. A beaver swims past my dock, oblivious to my quiet presence. For now, the pressures of life have been cast away, like a stone that’s been skipped across the water and has sunk to the bottom of the lake.
Solitude can make an excellent companion. While many studies focus on the positive impacts of social connections (family, friends, clubs, places of worship) on health and longevity, the health benefits of solitude are often overlooked. According to Sherrie Bourg Carter in Psychology Today, there are many benefits of spending time alone. Being removed from distractions gives you an opportunity to clear your mind and learn more about yourself and what you want in your relationships with others. It improves your concentration, creativity and problem solving. http://tinyurl.com/qhtx56m
There’s no specific dosage or required venue for solitude. For some people, a few minutes wherever they can be found is sufficient. A walk by yourself during a lunchbreak or a self-imposed time out from your bickering children can be enough to decompress.
Solitude is not just for adults. A study of Grade 5 through 9 students found that, while those who spent 25 to 45 per cent of their non-class time alone did not necessarily feel happier during their alone time, they had more positive emotions during the rest of the week-long study compared to participants who did not have alone time. The author of the study suggests that, for Grade 7 through 9 students, there’s a rebound or positive after-effect from the alone time and an intermediate amount of alone time has a constructive role that complements social experience. http://tinyurl.com/gosglxa
At the lake, I re-read The Second Journey: The Road Back to Yourself by Joan Anderson. In the story, the author’s friend asks Joan, “You toss around amazing nuggets of wisdom, but are you living your message?” The author admits she’s not living the kind of meaningful life she advises others to live. She’s overworked and stressed out. The pursuit of success has led her to exhaustion. Later, she tells her friends she’s made some decisions “just for me.” She’s “getting rid of clutter – people, activities, and responsibilities … If I’m not fully engaged and feeling good about it, then it goes.”
Her statement resonated with me. I feel as though I’m living my “second journey” – a stage in mid-life that allows me more freedom.
I hear the loons calling. Perhaps they’re beckoning me to join them in the lake. No one’s around to consult, so I jump in.