Being comfortable with solitude

Dumbo sunrise

Quite the view, isn’t it?

I recently spent a week back in Cayman, where I had upwards of thirty meetings, talking with well over sixty people, including leading a four-hour session for a team of twenty-two. I worked out that in all that time I had less than two hours at a stretch on my own on any day.

I then flew to New York for three nights, finding myself waking up on my first day to this view and, by dint of serendipity, with no plans at all and with my host not arriving back until the next day.

So, what did I do with that solitude and what can I share about the power of solitude?

First, I was so utterly captivated by the view that I threw out my prior plans. I was going to head on the subway up to Central Park to explore it by city bike, then go to the Museum of Modern Art. No, instead, other than venturing out to walk around the area a few times for food, I stayed sitting facing this view all day, reading, writing, yet often simply sitting looking out of the window.

In all that time I spoke to only one person on the phone, so quite the contrast to the prior week.

Interestingly, by the evening, I started to feel restless, and I was reminded of the quote that I wrote about in an earlier post: “Leadership – Being alone with our thoughts“:

“tout le malheur des hommes vient de ne savoir pas se tenir en repos dans une chambre”

“All of humanity’s misfortunes stem from man’s inability to stay at rest in a room”

From Pensées by Blaise Pascal, written in the 1600s

I was and am amused at myself at this!

As with so many of us in our culture, I’m so conditioned to be busy, as if that is such a virtue. Yes, I knew and felt that my first day in New York would be perfect to switch gears and take a quiet day for self-care, yet I was still edgy by the evening.

I was not, as the post title says, entirely “being comfortable with solitude”!

Now, recently I bookmarked this tweet, and today I went back to it and read the article.

The article is titled:  This is the most underrated skill you’ll probably never get taught

It talks of the “Perils of being connected”, then “Boredom as stimulation”, then gives some powerful takeaways:

“We are so busy being distracted that we are forgetting to tend to ourselves, which is consequently making us feel more and more alone.

Interestingly, the main culprit isn’t our obsession with any particular worldly stimulation. It’s the fear of nothingness –our addiction to a state of not being bored. We have an instinctive aversion to simply being.

Without realizing the value of solitude, we are overlooking the fact that, once the fear of boredom is faced, it can actually provide its own stimulation. And the only way to face it is to make time, whether every day or every week, to just sit – with our thoughts, our feelings, with a moment of stillness.

The oldest philosophical wisdom in the world has one piece of advice for us: Know yourself. And there is a good reason why that is.

Without knowing ourselves, it’s almost impossible to find a healthy way to interact with the world around us. Without taking time to figure it out, we don’t have a foundation to build the rest of our lives on.

Being alone and connecting inwardly is a skill nobody ever teaches us. That’s ironic, because it’s more important than most of the ones they do.

Solitude may not be the solution to everything, but it certainly is a start.”

Oh, and my dear friend and host is one of a few people I know around the world who can make more happen in any given period of time than me. I marvel at how much she can do at once and in a limited time. The flip of this, of course, is that there is a risk of burnout.

One way she addresses this to take a “tech shabat”, to go from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday without ANY technology.

With a view like this, I can absolutely create that picture in my mind.

It has been a great visit to New York. As i write this I’m about to venture out in the city and I am indeed refreshed and recharged from the visual peace of a day and a half with this view.

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