It is well known that spending time in silence is highly beneficial to our wellbeing, but it isn’t quite so well known that spending time alone, in solitude, is also necessary for the flourishing of our creativity.
Today I decided to do some research on what different writers and creative thinkers have felt about the benefits of spending time in silence, and solitude; not the same but related.
But there are certain preconditions for solitude that need to be met for that solitude to be actually beneficial. Psychologist Kenneth Rubins called them the ‘ifs’. He says solitude can be productive only:
“If it is voluntary, if one can regulate one’s emotions “effectively,” if one can join a social group when desired, and if one can maintain positive relationships outside of it. When such conditions aren’t met, yes, solitude can be harmful.”
Musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, said this of solitude:
“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer-say, travelling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”
I think it is very important to note here the words – completely myself, as an important condition for Mozart for the flow of his ideas.
What does it mean to be completely yourself?
I understand this to mean to be entirely at ease within our own being; to be content; to be happy; to be fully in the now and not lost in rumination on the past or the future.
Easier said than done – but then, creativity, and giving yourself the time and the space for the cultivation of your creativity, will also bring you more into present moment awareness and out of mental stuck-ness or broken-record-ness when your mind gets lodged in a thought loop it can’t get itself out of.
As Kenneth mentioned in his ‘ifs’, the solitude should be voluntary and we should be able to regulate our emotions effectively.
But what does it mean to effectively regulate our emotions? To be not carried away by our feelings into a reverie of either ecstasy or depression?
What about Anaïs Nin’s theory that emotional excess is necessary for the creation of art
“Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
What if our emotions were actually the fuel the spurs us on in our creative practice, whether that is living in a creative way, and dreaming up new possibilities for the living out of your dreams, or whether it’s using them to fuel your artistic creations?
The meditative approach of Vipassana or Insight meditation teaches us that emotions are like the weather – they are constantly changing and they are not us – not me – not mine. But are we able to be aware of this truth, and thus, in a space of equanimity where we are not identified with our emotions as our ‘self’ but at the same time to use their energy as fuel for creativity?
Many of us though are afraid of the silence. We are afraid of solitude and about what it will bring us. We are afraid that our own thoughts will not leave us in peace. And of course now that we have mobile phones, we have an instant distraction from our own company available usually 24 hours of the day.
What if, right now, you try practicing sitting for five minutes in silence, away from all distractions, with your phone off, and see how it feels. If it feels good, try extending it for five more minutes.
Franz Kafka said this of solitude and silence:
“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
This is when, like Mozart, we are able to become a channel for the world to roll in. We become open to the universe and to the gifts that are constantly awaiting us, and something just comes. This is the mystery of life. Where did that something come from? From the silence itself?
Writer Sarah Maitland became more and more intrigued with silence and solitude and decided to commit to forty days completely alone in a remote hut on the Scottish isle of Skye. Though at first, silence ‘slipped away’ from her ‘like a wild animal’, towards the end of the first week the first effect that she noticed was a strengthening of her capacity to feel.
“The first effect that I noticed, towards the end of the first week, was an extraordinary intensification of physical sensation. My sense of body temperature became more acute – if I was wet, or cold, or warm, I experienced this very directly and totally. I have never been so physically tired, so aware of weather, of sound, and of the variety of colour in the wild environment. Before long my emotions also swelled into monumental waves of feeling – floods of tears, giggles, excitement or anxiety, often entirely disproportionate to the occasion. It felt normal. These were not new or inexplicable feelings; they were the old ones felt more strongly.
This was just the beginning of some very revelatory experiences for her at this remote hut at the top of the world. Read more here.
When we go on silent retreat, in meditation, this is usually also what happens. We become highly aware of our physical, emotional and mental sensations. Our awareness becomes heightened because we are more present. And the gifts that come from this are many. But the main gift that we receive is the gift of ourselves. We come home to ourselves and recognise all the beauty and richness that can be accessed within our interior. And then we often also become an open channel, like Mozart, for abundant creativity. So get your pens and papers ready when you get home!
If you would like to retreat with me, I am offering a 3 Day Donation Based Meditation Retreat in Bendigo this March.