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Logotype for the Inside Outside Retreat Centre.

Why Solitude

A lone rock in a field. A sax blowing once and letting the silence move in.

~Stephen Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is. p 177


Why solitude?

A strange question, perhaps.

But since we’re getting ready for a 75 minute retreat on December 3rd to explore solitude, it’s one that bears asking.


First off, we should be clear about what we mean by solitude. After all there is, right now, much concern about social isolation and loneliness. While solitude certainly suggests being alone, there’s an important difference between solitude and being lonely. Psychology Today explains it pretty clearly: “Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.”


What we’re hoping to explore in our micro-retreat is Hannah Arrendt’s notion that solitude is “a solitary but not a lonely business; solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company.”


Or as May Sarton puts it: “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”


If we can create that situation, find that richness, there are benefits to ourselves and others. Here’s just a few from author Nicholas Carr:

Solitude is refreshing. It strengthens memory, sharpens awareness, and spurs creativity. It makes us calmer, more attentive, clearer headed. Most important of all, it relieves the pressure of conformity.


After analyzing the lives of many great artists, psychiatrist and researcher Anthony Storr concluded that the greatest benefit of solitude is its ability to engender new ideas. He notes, “ideas are sensitive plants which will wilt if exposed to premature scrutiny.” (Solitude: A Return to the Self, p. 147)

But there’s another, paradoxical benefit to finding some solitude. Here’s Sherry Turkle’s take:

The capacity to be alone is the capacity to know enough about yourself and who you are, and be comfortable enough with that. That way, when you are with another person, you’re not trying to make that person into somebody you need them to be in order to buttress a fragile sense of your own self. You can actually turn to a person and see them as another person, and have a real relationship with them.


Or as Arendt would say, “living together with others begins with living together with oneself.”


Parker Palmer takes that paradox one step further: “Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self.”


Such an insight. Such a challenge.


Solitude is no easy thing. It’s something we need to cultivate. Michael Harris, author of Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World, claims solitude as a resource and one that needs careful nurturing and attention. The intrusions of texts, emails, alerts, and social media may deplete this delicate resource and make us feel as though we are in a throng even when we are by ourselves.


Our micro-retreat Solitude offers 75 minutes to slow down the relentless flow of information, opinions and advice engulfing us; to set aside the insistent demands we live with; and to free our attention and think our own thoughts.


And maybe, come back to the world a little bit more at peace with ourselves and with each other.


Contact Us

We are settlers on Treaty 13 Land, the traditional territories of many Indigenous Nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples from across Turtle Island. We are committed to honouring the history this land bears witness to, responding to the 94 Calls to Action of the  Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and walking lightly on the Earth. A portion of proceeds from all our offerings are sent to:  The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and The Nii’kinaaganaa Foundation.

The Inside Outside Retreat Centre, Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), 720 Bathurst St., Toronto, ON, M5S2R4