In our busy lives, having some quiet time alone can feel like a much needed, and far too rare, breath of fresh air. Being able to slow down, quiet the mind, and have the time and space to breathe and reflect is necessary to feel connected to ourselves, others, and the spiritual dimension of life. Solitude offers a space of reconnection, revitalization and renewal.
Solitude is something we most often seek out consciously. We make a choice to step off the treadmill of daily life, away from even loved ones to be able to tune in to our deeper selves. As Psychology Today Editor at Large, Hara Marano writes in her monthly e-newsletter, "Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely, a constructive state of engagement with oneself."
Sadly, another and far less healthy kind of alone time is abundant in many people's lives: isolation. While some people choose to withdraw to decompress, for many others, isolation is an imposed disconnection from others. Too often, isolation is a side effect of busy people leading complex lives.
While a degree of self-reliance is important, our culture tends to idolize an excessive self-reliance, that makes us believe that to be strong, mature or responsible, we aren't supposed to need other people. We are supposed to do it all alone. And we're supposed to be okay doing it all alone.
While this kind of excessive self-reliance can protect us from being hurt or disappointed by others we might open up to or let ourselves depend on, it does not nourish our hearts and spirits the way solitude does. In fact, it might wear down the heart and spirit, at those moments when we don't want to ALWAYS have to do it all alone.
If we can take off the armor of the self-reliant way, we might feel lonely. Hara Marano defines loneliness as "a negative state" where "one feels that something is missing. It is a deficiency state."
Loneliness takes a toll on our emotional and physical health. As Marano notes, "Researchers have known for some time that lonely persons report higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same stressors as nonlonely people, and even when they are relaxing. Loneliness raises levels of circulating stress hormones and blood pressure. It undermines regulation of the circulatory system so that the heart muscle works harder and the blood vessels are subject to damage by blood flow turbulence."
Marano also cites that loneliness disturbs sleep, "so it is less restorative both physically and psychologically." So, while sleep can be a natural pathway to solitude and rejuvenation, loneliness alters the sleep experience.
Marano cites the research of John T. Cacioppo from the the University of Chicago, who has found that "the effects of loneliness accrue with age." Loneliness "destroys resilience and restorative processes so that future bouts of stress become more destructive. The subjective experience of....loneliness, accelerates the rate of physiological decline with age."
How do we make the switch from isolation to solitude? How do we learn to give ourselves the alone time that rejuvenates rather than be imprisoned by a sense of social isolation?
We surely need to learn to respect our connection needs--with ourselves, with our spiritual nature and with other people. We need to learn to recognize our connection needs and also to value them. Having time to sustain a sense of connection with self and others requires stepping away from the work treadmill, and the endless list of things to do.
Establishing rituals that support connection make a big difference. Morning meditation. Taking a walk with a colleague at lunch. Taking time for lunch at all and sharing it with a colleague, or even sitting outside and enjoying the sunlight and the trees. Having 30 minutes of downtime at the end of the day. Putting down the Blackberry and opening up a book. All of these practices can enhance our sense of connection and nourish our spirits and hearts.
©2007 Linda Marks
Linda Marks, MSMhas practiced body psychotherapy, working with individuals, couples and groups, for more than 20 years. She holds degrees from Yale and MIT, and is the author of Living With Vision: Reclaiming The Power Of The Heart (Knowledge Systems, Inc, 1988) And Healing The War Between The Genders: The Power Of The Soul-Centered Relationship (HeartPower Press, 2004).
You can reach her at http://www.healingheartpower.com
Her blog is http://www.heartspacecafe.com/blog
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