I met some really incredible people at last week’s TED conference, and Rabbi David Wolpe was one of them. Here he is on the power of solitude:
“When he was a child, the Seer of Lublin (later a famous Hasidic master) used to go off into the woods by himself. When his father, worried, asked him why, he said “I go there to find God.” His father said to him, “But my son, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “God is” said the boy, “but I’m not.”
Solitude is the school of the soul. Why was it Pascal who said that all of our problems come from not being able to be in a room alone? Not solely because he was an introvert, but because he was a deeply faithful man and religion not only emphasizes community but helps cultivate solitude. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai,” says a classic rabbinic text, and Abravanel, the 15th century commentator, asks — why Sinai? Why not “from God?” His answer is not that Sinai is a synecdoche — that it stands for God — but rather that Moses needed the experience of aloneness on Sinai to be ready to receive the Torah. No mountain solitude, no revelation.
Introverts people their solitude — with books, with imagination, sometimes with God. Hitbodedut, aloneness, is a traditional Hasidic practice in which the worshipper goes off alone. Sometimes he will scream, or cry, or contemplate, but it is essential that the eyes of the world do not push or pull in that moment. Influence is important, but in aloneness is freedom. Those of us who stand on the side at the party, or prefer not to go, do not devalue others. We just find that we can be truest to them when we have stored up quiet moments in the private reservoir that nourishes our souls.”
If you’d like to know more about Rabbi David Wolpe and his work, please go here:
I could not agree more. I find that the busier my life becomes the more this solitude and meditation is essential to staying in synch with my true self. So much clamors for my attention that it is easy to lost touch with my inner self and lose that God given inner tranquility. THANK you for sharing this with us!!
A book which has helped me greatly over the years is Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline.” He devotes a chapter to each of the classic spiritual disciplines: simplicity, worship, study, confession, celebration, etc. One chapter to which I am repeatedly drawn is the chapter on solitude. The peace and renewal of that discipline is so necessary–and so hard to come by. I am nowhere near the point of practice where I can be in solitude even among a crowd, but I hope to arrive there someday.
What a coincidence. Just yesterday, I finished reading David Wolpe’s “Making Loss Matter”. He is a gifted writer. Thanks for sharing his thoughts on solitude.
I really identify with the son who, when his father told him that “God is the same everywhere, replied, “God is, but I’m not.”
Introverts need solitude not only for nourishment (as Jung and others have so wisely noted, introverts withdraw so that they can recharge their batteries), but also because they often can’t be authentic or true to themselves in the presence of others. Because the extroverts tend to trample all over us, we can often come to feel as if we don’t even exist when we’re around them. Solitude allows us to exist as we are, and not as others wish us to be.
Solitude nourishes us because it is our natural, organic state–just as community is the natural, organic state of the extrovert. Ironically, we’re at our best, we’re most ourselves when there’s no one around to see us.
How about that for an existential dilemma?
“Solitude is the school of the soul.” I LOVE that statement!
As a devout Christian, reading Ruth Haley Barton’s INVITATION TO SOLITUDE AND SILENCE about 5 years ago was a huge game-changer for me. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to be alone and still with God until I devoured her book and began practices that allowed myself to be stilled in His presence on a regular basis.
I vaguely knew then that I was an introvert, but only since reading Adam McHugh’s INTROVERTS IN THE CHURCH have I realized the great affect my introvertedness has had on how I practice my faith … and vice versa. I began to prize how I had been created instead of feeling “less than” because I tended to shy away from crowds and the spotlight, craving instead peace, stillness, and a back row seat where I could simply observe and soak up what was happening around me. My calling and work as a pastoral counselor now made complete sense. This began the process of many “aha” moments as many things in my life began to fall into place.
I am really enjoying your book, Susan, and seeing how the nature we’ve been given plays out in the culture.
I love this article and I am looking for to reading your book. I am not afraid to be alone. It’s nice to know that I am not the only one. Thank-you!
Great thoughts, Susan!
As you mentioned, I think Jesus Christ gives us a great example of going off alone and taking time to pray. Like a branch on a tree, I must stay connected to Jesus to keep thriving. He brings true peace, complete forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and the power to live for God. I hope that you can take the time to seek God through His Son, Jesus.
He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)It’s worth the time to find out what He’s all about.
I love this story of the Seer of Lublin. Initially, we need quiet to discover our true spirit. Once this awareness is stabilized, and that takes considerable time for most of us, we will find our true spirit / God everywhere.
I agree with Rabbi Wolpe’s sentiments for the most part. I agree that aloneness is a vital component to finding freedom, but freedom doesn’t exist only in aloneness. And being alone doesn’t necessarily guarantee freedom.
Thank you for the inspiration!
This applies one on one as well as one on One. (rarely do people frame it as One on one, however) If we do not even discover the true spirit of words from another person, conceptual pointers are probably of little use, if it isn’t a misunderstanding in the first place.
The reason aloneness is needed is because these pointers are insufficient in themselves. If we truly recognize this, and the true spirit of things, then we will know when to speak and when to leave things alone, regardless of how correct they seem to be.
Dear Susan, I just watched your TED talk this morning, and feel like I have been liberated! I am a “socialised introvert”, and after listening to you, feel almost vindicated. It’s OK to like being alone, quiet, with a book, or just with myself! Yay! I will be buying your book and spreading the word – quietly!
Thank you Susan for your wonderful TED talk. I definitely feel I am an introvert and I agree completely with what you say about the ways schools are. I feel that more outgoing people get a lot more attention and opportunities from teachers and other students which is not right. I enjoy working on my own because I don’t like to be bombarded by others and their thoughts before I’m done thinking. I really enjoyed your talk and could relate to it completely. I often feel that extroverts don’t realise their impact, whereas introverts are able to take a step back. Thank you. You have put sense to my thoughts.
Thank you Susan. I really appreciated your TED talk and I am so excited to curl up alone with your book to contemplate introversion. Coincidentally, I posted an article about the neuroscience of being an introvert or extrovert that you might find interesting here: http://the-scorpion-and-the-frog.blogspot.com/2012/03/social-butterflies-or-wallflowers-two.html
Thank you so much for doing a TED talk. I listen to TED talks all the time and they have become an alternative source of schooling for me! Not only have I learned a lot about myself from your talk, but I’ve been able to use it as a source in a Business paper on Managing Teams. The characteristics of people are so important that I thought it should be taken into account when managing groups or working in teams.
Having become too ill to leave my home often, I have found that I am regaining my “inner” introvert. I don’t mind being alone at home; I enjoy it. It is tranquil. I am not lonely. Many people do not understand this but I am finally accepting of who I am and no longer allow to disturb me what others may think of me. I raised 5 boys who are very close in age and who are all extroverts. I guess its because they were raised as a “pack” is all I can figure. Actually they all were born that way. It was a time of chaotic enjoyment for me and taught me how to be less introverted. When it became time for them to spread their wings and leave home I waited for the “empty nest syndrome” to occur as I was assured would happen. Eight years after my youngest left and I’m still waiting. I find I am enjoying having my home to myself. I enjoy when they visit and enjoy when they leave. I also prefer keeping in contact with friends and family through social media. Don’t call me; I won’t answer. I don’t enjoy company ‘dropping by’. I enjoy using my alone time to learn and think about what I’ve learned. Its enjoyable and refreshing to me. Its also refreshing to learn that I am “normal” too.
In so many ways we, as a people, have declared war on solitude and meditation. We are lost without a ‘set’ or a ‘bunch.’ The worst possible calamity is to be alone. If you enjoy anything alone, you are ‘antisocial’ and ought to be rushed to the psychoanalyst’s couch, or better still to the mental hospital.
We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void. Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap-opera heroes at our side. Even daydreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.
The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone. How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice! Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life—when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray.
Dear Susan, I appreciated your TED talk enormously, and was especially touched by your story about your grandfather. Your account of David Wolpe underscores the theme. As a former introverted pastor (in The United Methodist Church,for twenty-some years), I feel great connection with them both. You might find interesting my story about four years on a remote Nova Scotia island. I often felt that I was as close to being a hermit as I could reasonably expect to get. What a joyful experience it was. The book is called Bowl of Light, and it’s available both in Kindle and in paper at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Bowl-Light-Anne-Yarbrough/dp/1470003260/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332705411&sr=1-1
I stumbled across some reviews of your new book a few weeks ago. When I discovered the essence of what you were discussing, I simply “ate this up.” In listening to you speak to others about “Quiet” (i.e. TED Talk, numerous radio interviews, etc.), I felt a long-held sense of guilt about craving solitude simply melt away. Thank you.
I really appreciate your comments about what the 17th century mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal so insightfully observed: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannotstay quietly in their own chamber.” I remember that this quote really struck me when I read it in Pascal’s “Pensees” (Item 139 on Diversion). Solitude is such a marvelous opportunity to avoid what Pascal observed; namely, that many people are often afraid to be alone with their thoughts.
With the innumerable diversions in which we can engage today, the conversation which you started with “Quiet” is needed more than ever to help us not fritter away our lives with diversions but to think through their true, God-given meaning in times of quiet and solitude.
I love this. I often get the question, “Why do you like to be alone so much?” or I’m told that I’m “strange.” Since I’ve been living and working in Latin American countries where, on the whole, the people socialize a lot more than I’m used to in the U.S., I’ve received super doses of hearing how strange I am and being pressured to be more social.
The issue here, too, is that the majority of the foreigners who move to these countries are extroverted or appear to be so. So they are loud and outgoing and move in packs all the time. A lone foreign woman who enjoys doing something by herself is an anomaly. Add in the extreme chauvinism and the patriarchal nature of these countries and a single foreign woman who likes to go to cafes or bookstores by herself is too hard to understand.
Today I went to get a cappuccino in a cafe and all the men around me, as well as the woman working at the cafe, spent their time staring at me as I drank my coffee and read the paper. It’s like you’re not allowed to be alone, ever, and you definitely aren’t allowed to do it in pubic. Just walking from my apartment to the cafe requires me to be “on.” But I have had this experience in China, Korea, Indonesia and every Latin American country I’ve been in. Yes, I don’t look Asian or Latina, but at the same time, is it really necessary to stare at me all the time and try to chat me up while I’m running errands? Even going to the woods to recharged hasn’t worked in any of these places because everyone keeps asking you if you’re okay or if you need help and telling you how sad it is that you’re “all alone.” Shit, I went to the woods to be alone, not to explain why I’m so alone.
Very frustrating. I love moving to other countries, learning languages and interacting in the local culture. I do not love how they put me in the center of attention based solely on the fact that I’m not from there. Makes me think U.S. culture isn’t quite as extroverted as they say because there are places in the U.S. where you can move around and do things alone without getting unwanted attention. That’s because the extroverts are so busy trying to get attention that you can fade into the background or disappear and they don’t even notice.
At least that’s been my experience with it.
Dear Susan, We have just heard you again on Radio National (the intellectual channel of course!) in Australia. I am sure I one of millions who will say you are speaking for many of us. In my books, “How to Learn English Quickly” (recommended for those who can’t sleep)I refer to various multi-intelligences as pointed out to us by Gardiner, with intra/introspection being essential. We need patience and persistence and we need time to ourselves in order to read it all over before we start to absorb it. Then we go out and practise it later. However, I am always confident that being a reasonably quiet person is not being someone unusual; it’s just so much an essential part of life and enables others to have their space. I want to say “Try it!” But I suppose it is best to lead by example. Flowers bloom where they are allowed to grow.
I am one of millions
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