Our daily lives are filled with noise. Every day it’s getting harder to turn down the volume.
Even the places in which we used to find brief stints of solitude have been enveloped by our heavily mediated culture: airport waiting-rooms pipe “info-tainment” into our heads via overhead HD monitors, grocery-store check-out-lines drip soul-crushing pop music into our ears, and even bookstores (what’s left of them) bombard us with ambient advertisements and visual clutter at every turn.
And don’t even get me started on the things within our control, things like the TVs in our homes, our internet connections, our smartphones, our iPads, and our infinite technical “advances,” most of which cocoon our attention spans every waking moment of every day.
Often, the noise feels inescapable, un-turn-down-able, utterly overwhelming. The only way to avoid it seems to be while we’re sleeping. Or does it invade our dreams too?
But there’s good news: we can turn down the noise. It’s not always easy, and it takes a certain kind of awareness, but we can turn it down. It is our choice.
Five Ways to Create Solitude in Chaotic Times
1. Wake early. These days I wake without an alarm clock, whenever my body tells me to wake. Some days I’m up as early as 3am (yes, really). I recommend waking early, before the chaos brought forth by the sunrise, even if you have to set an alarm. Wake slowly. Take your time. Think. I write in the mornings in a quiet room with no distractions—no TV, no radio, no clocks, no noise: just me and my thoughts and the words on the page.
2. Schedule time to read. I love reading, especially literary fiction (e.g., David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Denis Johnson, Jonathan Franzen, et al.). I don’t have a routine, and I read whenever I feel like it, but I used to schedule time to read (when I had a busy corporate schedule). It was a way for me to force myself into solitude: just me and my thoughts and the characters on the page.
3. Go for a walk. I walk all the time (even though Dayton, Ohio, isn’t the most walkable city on earth). Walking gives me uninterrupted time to think, time for myself, time inside my head to marshal my thoughts and emotions. Even if it’s a fifteen minute walk, it’s worth my time: just me and my thoughts and the city lights under lavender skies.
4. Exercise. I exercise every day. I do so mainly because my health is the most important thing in my life—without it nothing else matters. Sometimes I go to the gym. Sometimes I do push-ups, squats, and pull-ups under a sun-kissed sky in the park. Whatever I do, I have the opportunity to do it by myself in solitude: just me and my thoughts and my body in motion.
5. Get rid of distractions. This sounds like common sense, but we’re so distracted by the noise that common sense doesn’t seem all that common these days. But you can try to turn off your cellphone for a while; jettison your television; kill the Internet for a month; get rid of a few clocks; check email and social networks only once a day; and find ways to remove subtle distractions from your life. That’s what I’ve done and it’s great: just me and my thoughts and a more meaningful life.
I’d love to see you enjoy some time in solitude, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. What can you do to remove a few distractions from your life, to create a little solitude in a chaotic world?
Please share this essay with others, but do so quietly; some of us are enjoying some much needed quiet time.