In solitude we discover what makes us feel alive. We can use our time alone to rest, in a complete and profound way, or we can engage in an activity that brings us joy. What a pleasure it is to dive into a project with no distractions, or to pursue our passions at full tilt. A year ago, I began taking recorder lessons—the first time I had ever attempted to learn a musical instrument. My progress is slow; yet, alone in my living room after my children have gone to bed, I am discovering a whole new language of self-expression. An hour flies by before I know it; I am in flow, lost in a melody, completely content. You may find your flow working in the garden, swimming long laps in a pool or sketching in a notebook. What makes all of these experiences special is that they are not diluted by conversation or shaped by someone else's agenda.
How to get a private moment or two:
If you and your inner self have been out of touch, build a new relationship with someone who deserves attention—you.
Make a date with yourself. In her book The Right to Write, novelist, poet and lecturer Julia Cameron encourages her readers to treat themselves to a weekly "artist date"—a solo expedition to a place that interests them. That might be a fabric store, an art or natural history museum, a lunch-hour concert or a mountaintop. The point is not to accomplish something or even to learn something; it's simply to have fun—alone. When we romance our creative consciousness, she says, we have far more energy to bring to the work of life.
Stand firm. It's funny how easily time alone turns into something else—but remember, when it comes to solitude, two is a crowd. Not long ago, I was just about to set off for a solitary hike when a friend called. "Come along," I suggested. "Let's take a walk together." I spent the next hour listening to a blow-by-blow account of her mother-in-law's visit, and I also learned a lesson. Friends are priceless, but so is an opportunity to walk in silence through the forest.
Be clear about your needs. "I need some time for myself" sounds both desperate and vague. My husband's response to this timeworn refrain is "Yeah, so do I." I've learned to be clear and practical: "On Saturday afternoon, I will be gone from two o'clock to five o'clock. Will you be able to watch the kids?"
Support others in their efforts to take time off. If you claim Saturday afternoon, invite your partner to follow his or her own inclinations next time, while you hold down the fort. My husband is perfectly willing to grant me time for myself, as long as I encourage him to go off for a tennis game afterward. If you're single or can't trade with your partner, swap child-care duties with a friend.
Be on the lookout for stolen moments. There are empty spaces in almost every day, tiny nooks of time that you can inhabit in solitude. Try arriving ten minutes early for appointments, walking to work, taking your lunch outside to a park bench, making dinner without the phone pressed to one ear. Breathe deeply, be still, and check in with yourself, if only for a few minutes.
Practice doing nothing. Your need to replenish and play is as important as your need to get through the to-do list. "Just don't make too big a deal out of figuring out how to relax," Moore says. "If you make a program of it, you're back to busyness."
More ways to find solitude: