A Dearth of Solitude

One could correlate any number of things with my abysmal writing frequency lately. A new, much busier job. A move to a much more fast-paced, expensive, and entertaining place. A plain old lack of inspiration. But what it ultimately comes down to is a dearth of solitude.

When I cannot spend time alone with my thoughts, then I cannot hear what they are saying. When I can’t hear what they’re saying, I have nothing to say. This has proven to be a dangerous condition, because instead of hearing what my soul cries out for and at least giving it power in words, those yearnings echo into a cacophony of invitations and expensive sublets, conference calls and buzzing bike rides. There is precious little respite, for even the trails and canyons seem a bit too crowded, a bit too competitive to decompress. And once the feeling of overstimulation starts spiraling, it takes far more than a day in the woods to regain footing.

With infinite options and entertainment, it is far too easy to lose sight of what’s important. You may know what you’re passionate about, but six paychecks and a dozen bills later, it’s ironed out by necessity. Throw a few happy hours and enjoyable distractions into the mix, and the needs of the soul fall to the bottom of list. Soon, what’s important and what’s necessary become conflated. Next, what matters is muted.

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This is how one finds themselves far from where they anticipated, no longer writing or singing, no longer riding or untethered. In order to remain dedicated to the longings and expressions of the heart, one has to be brave enough to spend time alone, to do what they must in spite of the cost, to ignore the chorus of sirens preaching finite possibilities. Comfort is intoxicating, entertainment is placating. Practicality is ultimately relative. Yet, these things come to feel like objective shackles, which we believe we must seek and serve. We seem to be biologically programmed to seek certitude, until one day the same predictability that saves our lives also robs us of them.

This of course leads to other problems, like the sense that in order to find peace, one must walk away from it. But there is a difference between high-functioning complacency and a well-fed soul. That gnawing hunger is a reminder that we are still alive and still have dreams to achieve. Perhaps being adequately busied is really just a cheap escape from purpose.

Thankfully, my soul is too sensitive to sit idly by for long. Without profound solitude, everything else feels frivolous at best. After a while, no distraction is as satisfying as not being distracted. Mercifully, the seasons change and rob us of the ability—or desire—to wring every last ounce from the fifteen hours of daylight. The world will only permit so much carefree indulgence before it is time once again to tend the fire and tend to the fire inside of us. With modern conveniences, we can tune out the seasons’ suggestive power and raise the wireless smart thermostat, but this only widens the schism between what’s needed and what’s done.

A curious phenomenon occurs when the distractions start to override any sense of connectedness. Without any time to process the wordless thoughts of the solitary mind, the rote act of existing begins to unfold like a third-person screenplay. I can see myself seeking food, falling asleep in anonymous shelter, even making eye contact and having treasured conversation. And yet, a slice of me is not there, is instead watching it all unfold from above, slowly floating away like a balloon seeking equilibrium elsewhere in the atmosphere. I wish in vain for something to feel real, wish that I could string together multiple days in a row that feel real and aligned with the strong and plaintive feelings buried deep within.