|Anne LaBastille knew what it meant to be alone and undistracted.|
You don't need to live isolated in the wilderness to be alone and undistracted, like Anne LaBastille did in the Andirondack Mountains of NY. But it helps. She loved her cabin as her place for "refuge, quiet, and as a peaceful place to write and contemplate".
A lot of people would find that attractive today, but perhaps not for too long. Even LaBastille was a part time hermit, engaging in a full life outside her mountain retreat. Perhaps it was the amount of time she spent with a lack of distractions that allowed her to be as involved as she was.
Never before has being distracted while with others been so easy, and solitude so out of favour. Too much connectedness. Too many screens, apps, devices, phones, movies, shows, games, and an expanding universe of virtual realities to choose from. When does it stop?
When are we ever alone and undistracted?
Crowds and distractions are hallmarks of modern life. Consumer entertainment is everywhere, in your face 25/8. It is normal to spend long periods of time as part of actual and/or virtual crowds or groups, sharing distractions through entertainments and other illusions.
A 1996 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicated 31% of U.S. residents wanted more time to themselves, whereas only 6% wanted less (Crossen, 1996).
Humans have important biological needs for attachment, affiliation, and sociality. But we also harbour yearnings to spend time alone. Just like being with others is good for us, spending time alone and undistracted also has positive benefits.
Benefits of Solitude
- wards off potential perils of over stimulation, a very real threat in these days of infinite choice and content
- can result in decreased self-consciousness
- enables freedom of choice with respect to thoughts and actions one finds intrinsically interesting
- the mind may be better attuned to, or more likely to generate, daydreams, shifting emotions, and novel thoughts and associations that contribute to creativity
- is a precondition for enlightenment
Being in solitude is a common spiritual practice across time and traditions. Just ask Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha about solitude, and they will tell you what wonders they discovered. You must admit, that is a pretty good endorsement.
You do not need to be a spiritual leader, or wilderness hermit, to gain the benefits of a little solitude now and again. You just have to remember to make it happen. It may be beneficial to set aside some time each day to practise quiet listening in solitude.
It can be done inside, or outside. In the city, or in nature. Still or moving. At home, or away.
Do not try to force anything and do not give yourself a hard time if you are not able to do what you hoped. Do what you can to make time to be alone and undistracted, and most importantly, be kind to yourself in the process.
Bring that kindness into the interactions you have with all life. Authentic experiences of solitude will ultimately bear fruit in greater kindness and compassion toward ourselves, others, and the planet.