Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Seeking Solitude in the Digital Age

Had I not accepted an unusual challenge during my senior year of college, I doubt I’d be currently aware of how my heart longs for quiet.

The challenge was to choose a spiritual discipline I’d never intentionally practiced before and find a way to observe it for one week.

The list included disciplines I was well acquainted with, such as prayer, fasting, and meditation. As I read on, I began to wonder if there was a spiritual discipline unfamiliar to me. When I read “Solitude” I honestly had to admit I didn’t even know what practicing solitude meant. All I could picture was living in the wilderness, wearing a brown robe cinched with a rope, and making my own butter.

The whole idea seemed highly impractical, but I do love a challenge.

The year was 2001. At the time, I owned a cell phone but for emergencies only. Because it seemed like such a novelty, I constantly told myself it cost $220 per minute to use (which it might have because I was most definitely roaming where I went to school) so it just took up space in my purse. The internet was up and running, but when writing research papers one still needed to cite real books. Email had become a thing, yet my friends and I utilized it to write each other letters. Upon receiving an email, I would print it out and save it in a special shoebox where I also kept my handwritten notes from friends and family. While I owned a television, I didn’t purchase cable, so I could really only use the VCR unless I wanted to watch something badly enough to get the tin foil out and begin problem solving to make our antenna work. AOL Instant Messenger was new and, on occasion, I would chat with a few friends who had it. LOL was the only initialism I recall ever reading, and I never once used it myself.

When I decided to practice solitude I knew I needed to set guidelines for myself. At the time, I lived off campus and had a week where I was staying alone. My classes were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was only taking a few credits as I had already met most of my graduation requirements. With this schedule, I realized I could avoid contact with people five out of seven days. I also chose to eliminate listening to any music, watching any screens, and any use of the phone. Having completed all of my final papers, I had already packed my computer up and sent it home. Therefore, I had no internet. Believe it or not, while I didn’t make a rule for this, I also don’t remember reading nonfiction books.

Given I spent most of my time alone that week, and that I had been struggling with loneliness going into the week, one might wonder what I did with my time.

I still wonder that. I remember reading, journaling, cooking, and cleaning. I remember life becoming peaceful, my heart becoming light, and time passing fast.

Toward the end of the week, I was surprised to realize I was no longer lonely. In fact, I wanted to find a way to extend my week of solitude. My heart had found the very quiet it needed. Which was the quiet I had been robbing myself of out of fear- the quiet I usually spent my hours distracting myself from.

Human connections are imperative for all of us. Yet, when I deny myself of solitude, my relationships suffer. I’m too scattered to listen and respond well.

Social media and email are tools, and in order to use them to enhance connections, I need to set the rules.

I don’t want to live distracted by ads, text notifications, social media, and email.

At this point in my life, a week of solitude seems nearly impossible. Still, I know I need to make some changes to quiet my heart. Last week, I made a social media schedule for myself. According to this schedule, I should not be on social media during one minute I would otherwise be spending with my children. I also purchased an ancient word processor to write on so I’m focused during time I’ve chiseled out for writing.

I took these measures after hearing my three-year-old ask me three times before his words began to register, “Mommy, are you listening to me?”

He shouldn’t have to wonder.

My life is complicated enough. At times I am distracted by weighty matters that seem like threats to my family’s well-being. With or without social media, there will always be times I have difficulty being present for my loved ones.

I do have the power to limit distractions.

When I am brave enough to use that power, I’m free to carve out fragments of quiet I once believed were unobtainable as a parent.

As a result, I’m more present with my loved ones- something our hearts mutually desire.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter. Also, remember, I’m scheduling posts and responding when I can give you my full attention too!


  1. Nicole, I love your work. First, you had me dying at the image of you, robe-clad and butter-churning in the wilderness. And then you sobered me with this thoughtful post. As the world's most introverted homebody introvert, I need solitude like air. But even "alone," I am connected and connecting too much. Thanks for nudging me on this. You are so right: my family should not have to wonder if I'm paying attention to them, especially as little as 2 teenagers and an overworked attorney are around to require or desire my attention. Blessings to you...feel free to respond a long while from now or not at all. I'll understand completely. ;)

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! It is so good to connect in this place. As a fellow introvert (who happens to also LOVE people), I 'm right with you. I hope you enjoy those teenage girls and that overworked spouse. I know you treasure them!

      Also, I WISH I remember butter from that week of solace. I don't. My next week of solitude (whenever that happens) will be better planned.

  2. What a great post. I am struggling with solitude at the moment so it seemed especially fitting. I'm on the first week of a three-month business trip with my husband and I can already feel myself getting lonely and restless. It's not that I saw or talked to other people so much more than I do now, but I always had the option. Sorry, I know this is a little off topic. I strive to keep my phone off when I'm with family and friends and I've found, like you my connections become so much stronger. Perhaps I should try a week of solitude so that this feels like more of a choice and less like something forced on me.

    1. This is such a relevant comment, Megan! Thank you for sharing your experience. What a unique (and potentially amazing) situation you're in! If you do take a week of solitude, I hope you check back in. I reflect on that week, often, as one of the best weeks of my life.

  3. Uggh, this is truly such a struggle. In fact, I've started to notice more and more how Monkey Boy and Turtle Boy are much more interested in what I'm doing instead of doing something with them, especially when I'm using the computer or my phone. In fact, if it's quiet time during the day and I go to use my phone or computer, it suddenly stops being quiet time. I definitely need to work on this more than I have recently. Thanks for the reminder and mirror! :)

    1. That is such a great observation, Kendall! My sons are the exact same way. And I want so badly to model "enjoying quiet" for them.

      I still have a long way to go.

      Thanks for connecting!

  4. "Social media and email are tools, and in order to use them to enhance connections, I need to set the rules." that's an eye-opening statement and one that we should keep in mind. I agree with you: saturating ourselves with social media has its draw backs. We should use these as a means to HELP us communicate and not RELY on it to keep in touch. Beautiful words, Nicole. Thanks for sharing it with us on #shinebloghop!

    1. After reading your comment, Maria, I'm thinking it would be wise for me to better define "distraction" and question myself about whether I'm being fruitful, quiet, or if I'm distracting myself.

      With my children, I try to make audio/visual media a connected experience and I hope that will remind them that we value connection rather than distraction.

      From the way my life has looked over the past few months, I need to remember that principle myself.

  5. It's amazing how we can get sucked into computers and social media. I have been making it a point to take time away from them lately.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jessica! I'd love to hear more about your media breaks.

  6. Quiet time is SO important for our health, mentally and physically. We are all so busy and so hyper-connected that our minds and bodies are always on the go, literally or figuratively with stress hormones. It's sometimes counterintuitive but when we make time for solitude, we recharge and become more efficient at working effectively during the times we are connecting and working.

    1. Isn't that the truth, Aliyah!

      Giving ourselves what we need to make meaningful connections changes everything.

      Thank you so much for connecting here!

  7. I don't know how I missed this post. A couple years ago, I went on a silent retreat as encouraged by my hubby. I thought I'd die, but was pleasantly surprised. You also may have inspired me to write on my typewriter...


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