March 11, 2023
I don’t often listen to audiobooks, but I’ve been listening to Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World, by Michael Harris. There’s so much I’m liking about this book. There’s lots about the psychology of solitude and what brain research has to say about it. And there are some terrific, honest, intimate and often funny stories about his pursuit to be alone. Bottom line: we could all use a bit of solitude.
But what I really like about the book is this: I think I understand what’s been a weird (and, if you ask my husband, annoying) habit I’ve had for many years. Listen to something Harris says in the last chapter of the book:
“Morning’s are the best chance we get, every day, to recall our solitude. They are brief glimpses into a default mindset that arises before the world pours too much noise into our eyes and ears. . . . something happens when we stretch out that brief flash, live inside it longer.”
You see, most mornings, when I wake up I try not to engage with anyone. If I can manage to get downstairs, grab a mug of coffee and sit outside without any intention to do anything but just be there––then I seem to be able to enter the day with a little more ease. But if I interrupt that reverie by checking my phone, thinking about what I have to do, or someone speaks to me, it’s over. The spell is broken.
Until I listened to this book, I was kind of embarrassed about needing to do this. It felt antisocial and selfish. Now I see why I crave these moments and get upset if I’m interrupted. A bit of solitude allows me to reflect and recharge and maybe, just maybe, have a better relationship with myself.
I know I am beyond lucky that I can choose these moments of solitude. I don’t have children swarming around me, a job to rush off to or someone needing constant care and attention. Some folks have to work a bit harder to get their solitude, if they can get it all.
Recently, my partner in facilitation, Leslie, took herself on a short retreat outside the city. It took some planning and arranging to make sure those she cares for would be well looked after.
It was worth it. Shortly after she arrived she sent me the following message:
“I’m in this beautiful space, surrounded by the silence of snow, wind, lake, trees, sky. I feel this is what I need. Have been needing. Solitude. I didn’t know quite how much I needed a space to not ‘talk’ or ‘do.’”
She created the water colours you see in this post.
I think they speak of peace and silence and stillness.
Seems to me that solitude’s gifts are for us and each other.
The retreats Leslie and I lead are grounded in the principle that inner work requires solitude and community. You’ll find opportunities for both in our offerings. Parker Palmer explains the rationale behind this, pretty nicely:
“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people-it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others. Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people-it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.” A Hidden Wholeness
If this intrigues you and you find you’re in need of a little solitude, we have a couple of offerings happening soon.
Where are we now is a weekly series beginning Tuesday, March 28, 7:00–9:00 pm EDT. We’ll consider how we find our bearings in an ever-changing world and reflect on who we choose to be. You can find more information and register here. It’s online and PWYC.
Wonder is another of our monthly, online micro-retreats. We’ll spend 75 minutes thinking about how we can find and sustain more wonder in our lives and how things might change if we do. Check it out and register here. PWYC
And just to be clear, we don’t pretend to have the answers to the questions these retreats raise. We’re simply opening the time and space to ponder together.
As I come to the end of this post, I wonder if our next micro-retreat should focus on solitude, how to find it and the gifts it offers. We’d love to know what you think. Let us know if a retreat on solitude appeals or if there are other themes you’d like us to approach.
I‘ll leave you with one last thought from Michael Harris. Collecting his thoughts after a week of solitude he tells us:
“This was the biggest bonus of all––the fact that working to find myself meant gaining others, too.”
Hoping you find your own way to a little solitude, soon.
Michael Harris (2017). Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World. Doubleday Canada.
Parker J. Palmer (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Jossey-Bass.
Leslie Chandler, March 5, 2023
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