Our daily lives are filled with noise, and 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 infotainment 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.
And don’t get me started on the things within our control: our televisions, Internet connections, smartphones, tablets, 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 easy, and it takes a certain kind of awareness, but we can turn it down. It is our choice.
I’ve found at least five ways to create solitude in chaotic times.
1. Wake early. 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, my thoughts, and the words on the page.
2. Schedule time to read. I love reading, especially literary fiction. It is a way for me to force myself into solitude: just me, my thoughts, and the characters on the page.
3. Go for a walk. I walk all the time. 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, my thoughts, and the city lights under Midwest skies.
4. Exercise. I exercise every day. Sometimes I go to the gym. Sometimes I do push-ups, squats, and pull-ups in the park. Whatever I do, I have the opportunity to do it by myself in solitude: just me, 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, dump 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 other ways to remove subtle distractions from your life. That’s what I’ve done and it’s great: just me, my thoughts, and a more meaningful life.
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