Twyla Tharp, in her book, THE CREATIVE HABIT: Learn It and Use It For Life, says, “It’s not solitude that slays a creative person. It’s all that solitude without a purpose. You’re alone, you’re suffering, and you don’t have a good reason for putting yourself through that misery. To build up your tolerance for solitude, you need a goal.”
ALONE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LONELY
“Alone” is a fact when there’s nobody else around. “Lonely” is how you feel about it. They are not the same thing.
Some people are actually autophobic (afraid to be alone). They need people around them or they start feeling like they have disappeared. They feel lost without at least one other person around to let them know they are not invisible. The problem is, of course, that if you are not able to tolerate being alone, you will probably not be able to hear your own heartsong. And if you can’t hear your own heartsong, how can you follow it?
In this YouTube Video, “How To Be Alone” was directed, shot, animated by hand and edited by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. The poem is performed by its Maker, Tanya Davis who is a poet, singer and songwriter. It is a lovely piece of work.
Twyla suggests remembering how to daydream — just sitting in a room all by yourself and letting your thoughts wander wherever they will. Yeah, yeah, yeah. When you were a kid you used to get into trouble doing this. You’re a Big Person now; it’s allowed.
This is not the same thing as sitting meditation. You’re not trying to empty out your mind. You don’t want to sit restfully between thoughts. What you’re doing is lying in wait, trying to capture the butterfly thoughts that come wandering out of your unconscious. You’re trying to tease them forward until you can swoosh them up in your butterfly net so you can examine them more closely.
If you have problems with being alone, you have to build up your tolerance for solitude first. Do this “quietness without loneliness” for a minute, Twyla says. (Anybody can handle one minute of daydreaming.) Work up to ten minutes a day of this mindless mental wondering.
Then start paying attention to your thoughts. Try to see if a word or a picture or some other interesting thing surfaces out of all that blankness. If not, keep on daydreaming, extending out the time until you find the length of time you need to stay in that space before something interesting pops into your head.
When an idea sneaks into your brain, get engaged with it. Play with it, push it around. You’ve acquired a goal to underpin this solitary activity. You are not alone any more. Your goal, your idea is your companion.
Says Twyla, “You are never lonely when your mind is engaged.”
Here’s a YouTube video posted by Big Think, “The Psychology of Solitude: Being Alone Can Maximize Productivity.” In it, Scott Barry Kaufman, the co-author of WIRED TO CREATE: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, explains how solitude benefits and nurtures your propensity for Making.
Here’s a poem:
There are times when I must sit in the quiet by myself
Times I must be still and separate.
So many people swim through my days that
It is all I can do to keep myself intact.
Like sardines, we are packed together,
All our juices mingling as
Together we get all soft and mooshy,
Slowly falling apart.
It occurs to me that sardines
Flash in the stray sunbeams,
Cutting through the waters where they swim.
Could it be that solitude
Helps me find the oceans I can swim through,
Keeps me from drowning in other people’s needs?
Maybe that’s the Real:
Sardines congregate in crowds;
It’s just what they do.
They’re little fish, after all,
And there’s that “safety-in-numbers” thing.
“One-of-many” means chances are you can slip away
Before the big fish gets you.
(Your little-fish strategy’s success
Probably depends on placement and on happenstance:
Too close to the edge and the big guys can notice you;
Too close to the middle and a net can scoop you up.)
And, yet, in that big school of little guys
Each one swims alone,
Doing one-fish things,
Making one-fish moves.
It seems to me that solitude helps you remember that.
By Netta Kanoho
Picture credit: Surf’s Up by K. Kendall via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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