We live in a state of relentless connection. When we’re not connecting physically, we connect compulsively through some medium. The concept of solitude is starving. Being completely alone is a form of vulnerability. You’re presented with infinite moments to reach into the innermost voids of your mind. Without usual distractions, you will likely face things that you haven’t. It’s just you and your mind. There is a good chance something beautiful will emerge from clarity. In other words, alone time is the shit.
Recently, I began reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. A lyrical Austrian poet, Rilke shares his knowledge on writing and existence with a young man named Franz Kappus through a series of letters. One of the key themes is the priceless value of solitude. Rilke discusses the benefits of solitude in the context of writing poetry, as Kappus is an aspiring poet, but the guidance he offers applies to just about everything.
Solitude is essential, in the process of creation. Whether it’s working on your craft or a marvellous thought that you’re trying to muster, locking yourself away for some time will leave you and your mind alone to do some purposeful fondling.
Essentially, what Rilke proposes is that, in order for one to be successful in their work, one must enter solitude with the purpose of viewing it as a required circumstance– like a tool. In order to get comfortable with the idea of solitude, it’s important to acknowledge our original state as human beings. Rilke states in Letters to a Young Poet, “We are solitary. It is possible to deceive yourself and act as if it were not the case…How much better…to take it as our starting-point.”
He continues, “Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.”
This goes against the modern relationship with alone time. In my own life it is relatively nonexistent, mostly because it’s generally less attractive than being with people that I enjoy being around. It is commonly believed that solitude is loneliness, and will in turn bring anxiety and sadness. Rilke deeply believed in the “trick of reversal” – turning negative human emotions into things that can be of service to you. So, essentially, Rilke advises Kappus to “convert solitude from a curse into a blessing.” The difference between solitude and loneliness is perspective.
Connection is ridiculously important to me, but I’ve learned that it’s important to welcome solitude and connect with myself with equally as much excitement in order to have an intimate relationship with my mind and to produce quality work.
Problematically, it’s harder today to be disconnected than it was when Rilke was creating because of technology and the immediacy that we’re accustomed to. This generation is used to being constantly informed, and without constant access to information through cell phones and other devices, we feel uncomfortable. Decades ago, it was as easy as shutting the blinds and not answering the phone – now, there are temptations bombarding us from every angle. How is it possible to connect with your mind in an intimate way if you’re constantly being influenced by outside sources?
In order to formulate a true, self-aware piece of whatever you’re creating, you can’t possibly be connected in the same way that people usually are. You have to spend time in your mind disconnected from other influences that are subconsciously affecting your ability to find your own voice.
Many people experience an overwhelming, make-believe disease called FOMO (the fear of missing out), including myself, which is basically a summation of all of this talk about shying away from isolation. Frankly, I think this is a product of our ultra-connectedness as well. It’s so human and habitual to want to stay in contact with people that you enjoy, so being without them at all, when you have the option of not disconnecting, seems utterly unappetizing. According to Dr. Heather Cleland Woods from the University of Glasgow on Medical News Today, the reason could be that “there is pressure to be available 24/7 and not responding to posts or texts immediately can increase anxiety. Also, [there is] anxiety around ‘missing out.’”
If we can reverse the fear of being isolated, we can turn it into a tool for development, and be happier and more creative as a result.
This article originally appeared on The Plaid Zebra and is republished here with permission.