Solitude: A Forgotten Art?

From Vicky Beeching:

In the past few days smartphone wars have increased, fuelled by the announcement of the Galaxy S4.

Last week saw the unveiling of Google Glass; a groundbreaking product available later this year. Our gadgets are always with us – today as a handset, tomorrow as eyewear. Yet in all of our digital connectivity have we lost the art – and the elixir – of being alone?

Solitude is dreadfully unfashionable. To spend an evening by oneself is to admit social defeat à la Bridget Jones. Social media has fuelled this connection addiction. Attachment, not detachment, is the must have item this season and being alone has been relegated to the closet as an awkward fashion of yesteryear.

Life used to have natural pauses; standing in queues, riding the Tube, lying awake in bed. Now we fill each hiatus with screens and status updates; not bad activities in themselves, but gone are the moments to reflect. Thanks to mobile technology we need never be alone again.

I’ll be the geek camping outside the shops all night to get my hands on Google Glass when it goes on sale. But alongside my happy immersion in technology I rely on my dear friend solitude and her comrade, silence. My first interaction with these powerful twins was an unlikely one. On a scorching summer day, crammed into a mini bus with the other sixteen year olds from my girls’ school, a compulsory RE trip took us to the local Benedictine convent. We invaded the prayer-soaked space, a loud army of short skirts and chewing gum. To the girls’ horror our final activity that day was joining the Sisters in ten minutes of silence. My classmates attempted to read Just Seventeen under the pews, but I slipped off to a quiet corner and encountered a peace and spaciousness that forever marked me.

From that day onward I’ve chased solitude and silence across the globe; from Merton’s Abbey in Kentucky, to Fairacres convent in Oxford, St Cecilia’s in Nashville, and the cloister of St Francis in Italy. In the silence my deepest fears about needing to achieve and to matter have been unearthed. Solitude, I’ve found, is not so much absence but a life-shaping presence with the power to re-calibrate and transform.

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  • Much needed.

  • I like this statement: “Solitude, I’ve found, is not so much absence but a life-shaping presence with the power to re-calibrate and transform.”

    But social media, smartphones, et. al are symptoms, not the problems. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain and as a fellow introvert i lament that evangelicalism, GENERALLY, does little to encourage solitude. Sadly, our culture works against it and so do many of our churches.

  • Travis Winckler

    Thank you for writing this, Vicki. You highlight the prevalent temptation of our age of being “connected” but not necessarily known, even to ourselves.

  • Don

    Go to a country with poor connectivity! It helps with solitude.

  • I think it was Foster who listed solitude and silence as two of the spiritual disciplines. When I first read that a couple of years ago, my immediate thought was, “No, those can’t be disciplines. That’s too easy!” But between my four kids, my iPhone, my wi-fi connection, etc., I’ve found silence and solitude nearly impossible to achieve…and I’m an introvert! It really does take discipline to be alone without technology, and then to quiet your mind long enough to hear the voice of God.

  • Jeff

    John Wesley was opposed to solitude as a practice. See – The Means of Grace: Wesley’s Mediation between Naturalism and Mysticism – Kevin Twain Lowery Olivet Nazarene University