The Art of Solitude

Yesterday I sat on a small bluff overlooking the beaches near Chatham, Massachusetts (Cape Cod). I did exactly nothing. I just sat there. There was a slight breeze coming off the ocean.

It is the off season, but Cape Cod is not exactly empty. The beaches have a few people on them and the restaurants and shops are still reasonably busy. But it is off season enough that you can find spots like this, and just be.

We have lost the art of solitude, I think. It has become harder and harder to find, and less and less of us feel comfortable with long silences, even our own. Maybe especially our own. We carry our phones everywhere we go and as soon as the threat of solitude creeps in, we pull it out to check this or play that or chat with whomever.

Yesterday, as I simply sat, I thought about why we have become uncomfortable in silence. In aloneness. I will be honest, I do not have an answer. I can come up with lots of possibilities, but I do not think things like pervasive technology, or living in a world where marketing has made convinced us that being “on” is so important, so vital.

Last night as I ate dinner alone, practically everyone in the restaurant had their cell phones on, tapping away. The food, by the way, was wonderful, fresh off the boats that afternoon and well prepared. Every bit was worth my attention. Worth savoring. So too was the view of the bay, and the evening breeze, smelling faintly of salt air. I assume that the company everyone had at their table were worth being with. But they were only half there, busy staring at the screens. I am sure my experience was, if not better, at least more complete, more full, than theirs. Lost in their screens.

Now and then, as I sat on the bluff over the ocean, someone would walk by on their way to the beach. Most were still glued to their phones. Except the little kids, who, phoneless and alive, gave themselves totally to the joy of the experience, running in delight through the sand, dancing at the edge of the waves, picking up shells.

Myself, I don’t know how people live without solitude. Life is this big thing full of wants and needs. People need this and that. There are crisis, large and small to deal with. It seems every call I get is either someone in need, or someone trying to sell me something. Day after day and I am at the same time, drained, and filled with the clutter of every day life.

Solitude is where I empty out. Sort out. Jettison that which is someone else’s and become, for a time, myself again. Simply sitting someplace, like this little bluff, allows me to empty myself into a universe far larger than the world I live in. Stillness, for me heals.

I don’t explain it well, this emptying out. It is not something our Western society has good words for. Eastern cultures have a better vocabulary for it. But I keep trying. Hoping here and there it will make sense to someone, and we can know we are not alone in our need to be alone, and not alone in the reasons why.

A few days of this are a balm. I will only be here two and half days. But living in that solitude, uninterrupted for those few days, generally gets me through six months to a year of the world. Powerful stuff.

I don’t know why it is so powerful either. In fact, I can’t explain much about it, other than the fact that it IS powerful. And I think our world is poorer for trading it in for constant busyness and cell phones. Obviously, I am missing something.

But I’ll take the trade off.

Be well. Travel wisely,


One comment

  1. I agree, Tom. Solitude is very important. I was in hospital briefly a few weeks ago, an emergency, so I was in no way prepared mentally and the total sensory overload sent me to the edge. Just 3 nights then I talked my way out and came home vibrating. I need to be able to hear the sounds of Nature. It’s how I still my mind.

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