Silence & Solitude As Creative Essentials

It hasn't taken that long for the fast pace and the feeling of no time or space to leave us feeling disenchanted and disillusioned. How long has it been since this intense quickening began? A couple of decades? 

I grew up without much gadgetry - a landline and a CD player were the only gadgets in my adolescent bedroom, a bedroom that was blanketed with vivid blue carpet and wall paint, with peaches made from construction paper and strung with thread dangling from the ceiling for the few months that "Peaches" by Presidents of the United States of America became my favorite song. 

I spent a lot of time outside, fortunate to have grown up in the bucolic countryside with plenty of hills and fields to roam. It wasn't until high school that I got a big clunky desktop computer, which I would dial onto a couple of times a week to tinker with my Geocities website, check ICQ messages, and log in to Everquest for a bit until the lag became unbearable. I guess this is when the snowball started.

It was only a couple of years ago that I stopped writing directions on a piece of notebook paper and started using the Google Maps app. 

Maybe it was this slower gadget-sparse environment I grew up in that causes me to need so much quiet and space to cultivate creativity (and overall well-being at that). Maybe it's just my introverted, tending toward serious, demeanor. Or maybe, like this study found, there is a link between solitude and creative fulfillment. 

The very air outside is different nowadays - vibrating wirelessly, you can feel it walking down a sidewalk, sitting in a cafe, the feeling of Always On. There's a certain thread of mystery and connectivity that used to flow through society (if you're over 30, you know the feeling I'm referring to) which seems to have gotten choked out and replaced by a state of always on, of chronic anxiety, of low-grade disassociation, lack of fulfilling connection, distraction, and insincere smiles on demand. 

Like any other monkey with a new shiny toy, we have become neurotic about our gadgets. But what we haven't become is satisfied, or tranquil, or focused. 

We're robbing our minds of some of the greatest pleasures - stillness, contentedness, deep thought, connection, silence, that feeling of there being time. 

As creatives, we need this space and solitude to cultivate the clarity necessary to be original, productive, and -- yes it matters! -- HAPPY. 

Creative retreats have become a profitable business model. A few hundred dollars for someone to help you turn your gadgets off and sit quietly.... a "digital detox" they call it. 

But far more affordable and enduring is cultivating the discipline to make this space, this quiet, this freedom from distraction a foundation of your lifestyle, that is - if it's something you truly value. 

I believe I'm an expert on silence and solitude and prioritizing creativity and inspiration, so read on for my recommendations for a more quiet and inspired life. But first, here are a few interesting articles and studies for you to browse:

Making Room for Silence, Solitude, and Tranquility 

People Who Seek Solitude Are More Creative

Why Smart People Are Better Off With Fewer Friends

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Maintain fewer, higher quality social relationships

I don't think this is true for everyone, but for certain types of individuals. A large national survey found that ...

... the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness.

But there was one big exception. For more intelligent people, these correlations were diminished or even reversed.

...more intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently.

So depending on many factors, one of which could be IQ, you might not thrive having many friends. Maybe just two or three really frickin good ones. 

I don't have to tell you what to look for in a truly rewarding and fulfilling friendship, you can feel it. You know. I'm giving you permission to respect that person and yourself by not putting such a cheap price tag on either of your time. 


If you can live in a less populated area, do it!

The same survey mentioned above also discovered that...

...people who live in more densely populated areas tend to report less satisfaction with their life overall. The higher the population density of the immediate environment, the less happy the survey respondents said they were.

It makes sense. We evolved in close-knit groups. Now we are swarmed by each other. WE'RE EVERYWHERE. Imagine if a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer was suddenly dropped into any modern-day American metropolis - they'd be baffled! People just passing by, inches away, but not speaking, not making eye contact, acting as if neither of you are even there. 

We're a weird species. 

I live in the absolute middle of nowhere, by the way.


Find presence (rumination is the mind killer)

We spend most of our lives in the past or in the future. What thievery! 

If you want to cultivate real well-being and much higher quality of life, this is a cosmic trick you've got to spend time becoming aware of.  

I'm not going to say anything new: meditate, breathe, catch yourself ruminating, do yoga every day, learn to check in with yourself regularly and spot tension, then learn methods to relieve tension. Practice, practice, practice and eventually new habits will take hold. Neural pathways CAN be rerouted, hoorah!

Oh, and remember this: knowing something and feeling something are entirely different things, and your cells respond to the latter. Read and intellectualize as the first step, but you can't stop there. Embodiment is where the prize waits. 


Spend time in the natural world

And do it often. 

Seek out trails in your area, and go as deep as you can. If you're afraid, bring bear spray or a bushcraft knife, or whatever makes you feel safe. But go! 

Don't bring your phone unless it's for safety reasons. Leave it on silent and vow not to touch it. 

Bring a notebook, write down ideas or lines that come to mind as you walk. Take time to notice the small things - learn the plants, follow animal tracks. Bring a disposable camera. Stand still and listen to life going on around you. Put your hands into the old old earth and pay attention to the feelings you have. If you feel restless and bored, observe that and let it be. Breathe deep down into your belly button as you walk. Try to let go of the feeling of destination, or of point B. Be interested in something bigger and longer lasting than you, in less shiny things that don't beg for attention. Write a poem about what you hear or feel or think. Create a playlist to listen to as you wander (tranquil atmospheric music like Sigur Ros is especially transcendent). Just be engaged while you're there. Give the world your attention. And return as often as you can.