We can have an approach-avoidance attitude to solitude in nature – being alone in silence away from other people. It can at first generate fear and tap into all our negative associations with “being alone”. Solitude is different to loneliness because it involves choice – choosing to be by ourselves or to make the most of being “forced” to be alone. It involves developing a positive perspective on being alone – seeing it as an opportunity for increased self-awareness and empowerment rather than a deprivation of company.
Ruth Allen, author of Grounded: How Connection with Nature Can Improve our Mental and Physical Wellbeing, maintains that when we are in nature we are never really alone – we are always in the presence of other living things that are around us that we often do not see. Our natural environment is teeming with life. When we choose solitude in nature, time away from other people, we can become more connected with nature and every living thing. We can be more open to the vibrancy and beauty that surrounds us.
Often, we can be fearful of being alone with ourselves – facing up to who we really are (rather than who we project to others). It means confronting those parts of ourselves that we may not like – it might be our character flaws or personal weaknesses, our past history of unkindness or thoughtlessness or our self-indulgence. Many of these traits can be hidden away from consciousness because they appear too painful to confront. The power of solitude in nature is the gift of silence and quiet reflection – time away from the distracting influence of noise and the pollution of expectations (our own and those of other people).
Gaining self-awareness and clarity
Solitude in nature offers us the opportunity to become increasingly self-aware – to understand who we really are and what we are truly capable of. In his TED Talk, photographer Benjamin Powell argues that solitude in nature gives “our inner voice the opportunity to speak” and reveals our life purpose to us because it unearths our “latent gifts and talents” and cultivates unselfishness. We can move from being self-absorbed to being absorbed in everything around us.
Often when we are experiencing challenges we say, “I need to go for a walk to clear my head”. Solitude in nature gives us the opportunity to develop clarity, restore perspective and find creative solutions to issues that are causing us stress. We can gain insight into our own way of perceiving the issues as well as develop an understanding from other people’s perspective. Reflection through solitude in nature can help us, for example, to understand residual resentment that we may carry after an interaction (even if that was a long time ago). It enables us to step back from the noise and clutter of a busy life and self-indulgence in hurt feelings and to find the insight to balance our perspective on the interaction, including understanding how our own sensitivity has contributed to our hurt feelings and appreciating the influences that contributed to the other person’s behaviour.
When we return from solitude in nature, we are in a better place to engage with others, whether partners, family, friends, or colleague. We can be more self-aware (particularly of our sensitivities and our habituated behavioural patterns), more patient through absorption in the quietness and stillness of nature, more in control of our own emotions and more ready to appreciate others in our life through experiencing gratitude for nature and its freely-given gifts.
Building resilience and self-reliance
When we spend time alone in nature, in stillness and silence, we have to fall back on our resources and resourcefulness. We have to tap into our inner strength as we explore our “inner landscape” with openness and curiosity. Meeting this challenge head on builds our capacity to meet the challenges of everyday life and to learn the depth and breadth of our inner strength. Solitude in nature can provide us with an experience of bliss that flows over into our daily lives and strengthens us when we are confronted by adversity. We know, too, from experience of solitude that we can seek refuge in nature to restore our groundedness and self-belief.
If we have an aversion for solitude in nature, we can explore the feelings we are experiencing to better understand the source of our fear. It might be that such solitude is a trigger for a traumatic reaction because of prior adverse experiences. It could be that we are very reluctant to look too closely at our lives and what we have done in the past. Sometimes, we may need professional support to engage with the challenge of solitude.
Ruth contends that we can train ourselves for solitude in nature and offers activities that we can undertake when alone in nature and ten strategies to employ when planning solitude in nature. She also cautions against trying to move too fast or too far when we are not used to spending time alone. Ruth points out, too, that we can progress from a short period to longer periods in solitude as we expand our comfort zone. She also recommends that we reflect on our solitude experience and learn what natural places are more conducive to wellness for us as well as what is an ideal amount of time for us to spend in nature alone.
As we grow in mindfulness through solitude in nature and the resultant self-reflection, we can grow in self-awareness, self-reliance, and resilience to face the challenges of life. We can also gain clarity about our life purpose and what we can contribute to helping others achieve wellness.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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