Solitude. Some of us seek it. Some of us avoid it. Ok, maybe most of us, avoid it.
As poet David Whyte recognizes “the first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are”.
Afraid or not, it is crucial for real change, and lies at the heart of creativity.
In a largely extroverted world, we see creativity as needing to happen as a result of sparks and connections with others. But even the most creative person, will tell you it is crucial for recharging, reflection and restoration. And digging deeper, we know that change must come from within. We need the support of our own solitude to be able to listen to that inner wisdom.
In her stirring book Wild Courage, Elle Harrison speaks eloquently of the gifts of stillness. Creating periods of silence and stillness in our working lives, in balance with times of activity and connection, is a powerful path to success. She quotes inventor Nikola Tesla who said “the mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us, cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born”.
Dedicated solo time is one of the most appreciated and transformational aspects of the leadership programmes we run. We tend to keep it as a surprise and when we disclose to the participants that they will be spending 2 hours alone on a hillside, it is met with trepidation, intrigue, resistance – or on the odd occasion, a plea of “can we have more time?”. For one particular executive programme, the participants are asked to reflect on their leadership in solitude, in nature, without distractions of watches or phones. It is a simple action or rather non-action, which proves to be a turning point for many.
As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”
In his reflections, a senior executive realized he felt guilty for taking time out for himself, and had the insight that “If I don’t care for myself, I can’t care for others”. The experience completely changed his philosophies and leadership practice.
Another senior manager came up with his own motto and a commitment, which he named “888”, no work before 8am, no work after 8pm and aim for 8 hours sleep.
One described how her mission “just came to me while I was sitting there”.
Others simply and profoundly realize how important is having time to think.
This solitude is a felt experience that stays with the participants long after they have left their tent on the hill side, long after they return back to the office. In the experience, they remind themselves that stillness, solitude, silence is accessible at any time, and creativity will emerge, if they are prepared to make space for it.
How will you make space for it in your life?
Whyte, D. (2016) Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, USA
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) quoted in the New York Times by Orrin E. Dunalp Jr in “Tesla sees evidence that radio and light are sound”, New York Times, 8 April, 1934, p. 9. Col 1 in Harrison, E. (2011) Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business, Watkins Publishing, UK
Harrison, E. (2011) Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business, Watkins Publishing, UK