Sweet Solitude: Creating Intimacy with Writing & Ourselves

One night during my teen years, I found a tattered copy of Kahlil Gibran‘s THE PROPHET in my parents’ bookcase. I read it and understood for the first time one of the reasons my parents have remained together and in love for decades. They love each other, but respect each other’s individuality first.

On Marriage (excerpt)
by Kahlil Gibran

      But let there be spaces in your togetherness, 
      And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 
      Love one another but make not a bond of love: 
      Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 
      Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. 
      Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. 
      Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, 
      Even strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. 
      Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. 
      For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. 
      And stand together, yet not too near together: 
      For the pillars of the temple stand apart, 
      And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow. 

I believe that many writers are deep-feeling, sensitive creatures who long for intense intimacy. We seek deep connections with others, the ability to crawl into our loved ones’ heads, to know others and be known deeply. If we aren’t careful, our interpersonal relationships can fall short of such high expectations. And we can appear frustrated, disappointed and overly complex.

I was living in Paris some years back, feeling lonely and hollow in this never-never land I thought would fulfill and “fix” me when I realized that what I lacked was intimacy with myself–comfort in being alone and connected with me, my thoughts and my feelings. Once I began turning loneliness into enjoyable solitude, the world of writing and other creative pursuits drew me in.

(Click here to listen to my song, “Solitude”, about this experience…)

Once we’ve instilled “sweet solitude” into our lives, we can form and relish intimacy within our craft. This can lead to some of the most authentic, connected relationships anyone can have—not only with others, but with the characters, worlds and stories we create. Think about it. Aside from writers and actors, who else gets the opportunity to step inside others’ lives and minds??? And similar to lasting romantic partnerships, we benefit from time away from it all. (For more information, see my post on writing and rest.)

Nine times out of ten nowadays, I find that any feelings of loneliness that pop up are remedied by time alone with my writing or away from it, particularly if I’ve been in spastic overdrive. 😉 I spend lots of time alone now and love it.

Simple Ways to Experience Satisfying Alone Time

  • Start waking up 30 minutes earlier than usual to journal, sip tea, meditate or walk.
  • Start winding down 30 minutes earlier each night. Turn off anything lit up (phones, computers, TV….) and avoid stimulating activities. Do something restful instead–read a relaxing book, journal, doodle, meditate…
  • Rather than eat lunch at the office, pack a lunch to eat outside or in your car.
  • Declare “social bankruptcy.” Health and happiness expert Dr. Susan Biali suggests saying “no” to most invites and attending only those that mean the most to you for increased alone time and emotional wellbeing. “The more alone time you get the happier you’ll be,” she says.
  • Write for FUN. If writing is your job, set aside time each day or week to write whatever the heck you feel like writing. Let it be “bad.” Don’t judge it. Grab a writing prompt or attempt your first poem. And if you’re working on a novel, approaching the plot and overall with a fun-loving attitude can lead to a fun-to-read end project.
  • Partake in a cell phone, social media, TV fast for one day or several hours per week.
  • Take a bubble bath while listening to soothing music.
  • Prepare and eat a candlelit dinner for one.
  • Observe and consider giving up your vices. Rather than deal with our thoughts and emotions, we can fall prey to coping mechanisms, such as overeating, over spending, over drinking and flat out avoidance. The first step in undoing these dependencies is awareness. (Actually changing them may take serious and important effort.)
  • Remind yourself that you can’t do everything. Ask for help. For more on easing up on yourself, see my post on letting things slide.)

What about you? Do you find solace through writing or other arts? What do you do to practice and savor alone time?

Leave a comment

32 Comments

  1. These are some really great tips! Part of my personal work these days has been learning to enjoy being alone instead of fearing it as I used to. While we do long for intimacy with others, if we aren’t okay sitting alone with ourselves, it can be really hard to connect that way with others. I’ve learned that the hard way.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Alana! I think many of us learn these lessons the hard way. 😉

      So happy to hear that you’re working on enjoying rather than fearing alone time. Some of the most important work you can do… Stay strong and rewards will come.

      Reply
  2. Kathleen

     /  November 3, 2011

    Love this post! Definitely some suggestions I’m going to try.

    Reply
  3. A really nice post! I think i’m pretty good about getting me time, but I struggle with getting the connections I do want. I don’t like cocktail party atmospheres, where it’s just one “surface” conversation after another (and sometimes Twitter feels that way too). I like to be able to have a deep and meaningful conversation now and then 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Glad to hear you get your “me time,” Coleen! The meaningful conversations are certainly fewer and further between. I find that writing fulfills it to an extent, but real human conversations are also important… I started a pro. writers MeetUp group toward that end. It’s helped a bunch.

      Such a great point regarding Twitter! Easy to feel like a wallflower…

      Reply
  4. Oui, Oui, August!

    Love this post! You sound like a very grounded person. Could that be because you’ve come from a successful marriage? Though it helps, it usually is an inside job.

    Great suggestions. I guess balance in our lives would be the key.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    Reply
  5. Trina H.

     /  November 3, 2011

    Beautiful song!!! & I love your tips. I haven’t done anything alone that I’ve enjoyed in forever. Time to change…

    Reply
  6. I love this post, August. So much wisdom.

    One thing I’ve learned from doing my own internet / TV fast once a week is that, at first intense feelings of loneliness and boredom creep up. Eventually, though, they dissipate and I’m left at peace. The days that are the hardest to be without TV / internet are always the best.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Joe!

      You bring up terrific points. The transition into quiet alone time isn’t always smooth for me either. It seems to function like a muscle, though. What was super challenging in the beginning now comes with greater ease. Wishing you many “best” days to come.

      Reply
  7. Shannon Esposito

     /  November 4, 2011

    Yep, so true…we do crave intimacy! I think all sensitive, artistic types probably do. I wish it wouldn’t have taken me so long (in my forties) to figure out how to find it within. My hubby knows now I’m much happier when I have alone time.

    Love Kahlil Gibran, by the way. I found two of his books at a garage sale about ten years ago and it was like winning the lottery when I started reading them. 🙂

    Reply
  8. August, Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” is one of my favorite texts. I’ve long said that if I ever get married, his piece on marriage will be one of the readings at the wedding.

    I spent a long time wishing and hoping for a relationship. I went to an all-girls high school and attended a college that was predominantly female; to top it off, I lived at home during college, and my mom was incredibly strict when it came to dating. Because I was a bit of a late bloomer, I harbored a lot of insecurities about relationships, thinking that until I had a boyfriend, I wouldn’t be quite whole. I ended up dating a great guy for a couple of years, though he did have his flaws. We broke up last Thanksgiving, and it was a bit of a shock, because I had started to think that we’d eventually get married.

    In the past year I’ve come to learn and embrace this “sweet solitude.” I’ve always loved being alone, but now that I’ve had the experience of being in a long-term relationship, I know that I can be a whole, strong, wonderful person on my own. If I do start dating again, it will be with the knowledge that I’ll be entering into a partnership, one that benefits from my ability to stand as an individual.

    Thanks for this post, and all the great tips!

    Reply
  9. Comic books – although my daighter usually accompanies me to buy them – are my solitary escape. And blogging, of course!

    Reply
    • Indeed, solace comes in many forms. My mom just told me that she used to watch “Mr. Rogers” for her own sake when we were kids…the calmness it inspired. Love that you relax privately via comic books. 🙂

      Reply
  10. I have heard it called many things, me time, alone time, etc., but “sweet solitude” clearly expresses how it feels. I can’t say enough good things ab out this post. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  11. This is beautiful and so true! I find myself after years of marriage realizing what makes my relationship so strong is the fact that we have a strong sense of self. This only comes with being alone with ourselves and really understanding who we are as individuals, so we know what we can bring to the unity of our marriage. I love all your tips too!

    Reply
  12. I really liked this post since every writer lives slightly out of everything even if they are in the thick of things. And so I too believe that one should have a strong bond with one’s inner self if they wish to be happy, instead of cribbing about being lonely in a crowd.

    Reply
  13. You said “…every writer lives slightly out of everything even if they are in the thick of things.”

    Such a great point! In this way, we’re all alone together.

    Reply
  14. mgmillerbooks

     /  November 5, 2011

    This one really spoke to me, and as far as I’m concerned, no truer words have been said. ‘Sweet solitude’ is sacred to me, it’s how I recharge. Turn off the phone and TV, lock the door, settle in with a good book, and life is good. If only more people would practice this. Thanks for putting it into words so well.

    Reply
  15. Howdy Pilgrim,
    I love your most recent, informative health article. I don’t understand where the Comment section is , however. Maybe I’m just too slow, or too tired to find it…I found this one though…Love it.
    Bless You
    paul

    Reply
  16. Jess Witkins

     /  November 7, 2011

    This post sounds like the kind of vacation I need. I’ve been on overdrive and completely exhausted at night. Today was the first day in awhile I sat in my room just listening to a book on tape and eating oatmeal. Then I played soft bluegrass style music. It was so calming. I still have a word count goal looming over me to start, but I’m off to complete that and plan to bring my journal along with me. If I get stuck, I’m going to write in there for a bit.

    August, reading this was a sigh on screen! I plan to use a couple of your ideas at the end. I like the candlelit dinner for one cause here in the midwest, we’ll have snow any day now. This will feel nice and cozy.

    Reply
  17. I have to admit, I love my solitude, and yet, why is it that being “alone” is one of my greatest fears in life? Odd how that works.

    Reply
  18. I just wanted to say that I love this post. So true, and so well-put.

    Reply
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