I was traveling recently and had to leave my bags in an international train station storage locker during a six hour layover. In my haste, I forgot to grab my book and my laptop. There was no WIFI to be had and my phone was low on battery. Those six hours showed me a lot about the value of solitude and silence.
Solitude is great for a lot of reasons. We are so focused on community and relationship that we forget an obvious truth – we have to take care of ourselves in order to serve, influence, and participate in community effectively. If you’re anything like me, you too often try to skip this step. Community becomes a mask, a crutch, something that shelters me rather than exposing the best parts of me.
What To Do?
What would you do if you had six hours in a foreign country with no money, a dead cell phone, and no book or gadget to entertain you? That was my dilemma. There was time to close my eyes and rest and do some good old-fashioned people watching. But that can’t last forever.
There is a lot of time to just think. Perhaps the first and greatest value of solitude and silence is that they make you think. When you’re bored, your values start to bubble up. It’s like your brain resets to factory mode.
For me, I started imagining some great triumph that makes me notable and well-liked. I do this often. Practicing acceptance speeches on the train, creating a timeline between today and my Noble prize for literature, or any other number of manifestations. When I’m bored, this is where my head goes.
It’s not all pretty (and it’s not all bad), but I think what is important is that it is true. This is the nature of my heart. These are my values being exposed – a need to be accepted, valued, do something meaningful. I may dumb it down to getting peoples’ approval, but at the heart of it, my values are making themselves known in the silence.
Am I Okay?
One of the things that is weird about boredom is that it causes a kind of anxiety. We feel this pressure to entertain ourselves. We can project that pressure onto others (and often do) when we are in a crowd or in a relationship, but we have this intense wondering that asks if we really are okay.
This is an answer we have to discover within ourselves. No one else can tell us. They can, but it won’t mean anything unless we first believe it for ourselves.
In this way, solitude and silence is valuable because it is the precursor for relationships. We cannot be in community with others if we cannot be content with ourselves. The community will become the crutch, the prize, the mask we hide behind. Community is a beautiful thing but if we are not okay without it, we can’t fully be okay in it.
I could tell you all the things I did during those six hours, but it really is not that exciting. The part you really want to hear is that, by the end, I was thankful for my forced silence. My dip into solitude.
So often I cling to relationship and community (and the shadow-side of those – social media, etc.). I tend to think that I have found those things and, therefore, I don’t have to be alone anymore.
But everything is an opportunity. Relationship. Solitude. Loneliness. Marriage. Singleness. And the six hours of relative silence was not something I asked for, but it was an opportunity to check my values, my vision, and my self-awareness. It was a time of contemplation. A time of assessing my priorities and wherein I find my affirmation. A time to ensure I am taking care of myself in the best way possible so that I can participate in society and personal relationships in the most beautiful manner possible.