Sunday, July 24, 2011

Considering Solitude

Heaven Can Wait 42x42" oil/cold wax on panel © Janice Mason Steeves
Still feeling the effects of my week long home retreat (how long can this feeling last?), I'm thinking about  solitude and it's place in the creative process.   In Paul Tillich's quote, solitude is the 'glory of being alone'.  Solitude is something you choose.  It's different than loneliness.

- In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone. ~Rollo May

As I went into my home retreat a couple of weeks ago, I had many people tell me that they just wouldn't be able to do a home retreat.  "Oh I wish I could do that", was a very common response. Several friends-many of them artists- told me that they thought I was courageous to be alone for a week.  Courage is not spending a week alone and unplugged. Courage is Harry Potter fighting Voldemort to the death. Courage comes from the latin word "cor" meaning heart, which is a common metaphor for inner strength. Courage is having your first solo art show.  Courage is changing directions in your work when you have no idea where you're going or how you're going to do it.  Courage is following your heart no matter where it leads.  Courage is choosing a life in the arts even though it may not pay the bills. It is not spending a week alone.

Ester Buchholz, author of The Call of Solitude, says that "Life's creative solutions require alonetime. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems.  Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers."

She goes on to say, "The natural creativity in all of us-the sudden and slow insights, bursts and gentle bubbles of imagination-is found as a result of alone time.  Passion evolves in aloneness.  Both creativity and curiosity are bred through contemplation."

The retreat sort of re-booted my awareness of how much I need space or solitude to create.  Space that is created through unplugging and leaving long open-ended days.  I think that the 'rules of engagement' that I set for the retreat can be modified for daily use.  I guess the word is self-discipline.

Buchholz says, "Alonetime is a great protector of the self and the human spirit. Ultimately, we might follow the message of every practiced meditator, who suggests living each moment as a new moment, with greater sensitivity to one's thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. That is the real message of alonetime, and it is through that profound self-awareness, that inner aloneness, that our lives will flower".

Kafka said: "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 unmasked.  It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet".  Or what about Picasso who said, "Without great solitude, no serious work is possible."

And then in the words of Gertrude Stein, "When they are alone they want to be with others and when they are with others they want to be alone.  After all, human beings are like that."


  1. I very much like this quote from Ester Buchholz (whose name I adore: "wood book"): "Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems." I do think that for some, courage is required in order to be alone long enough for knowledge to bubble up from within--knowledge that may be uncomfortable to receive--but for others, myself included, solitude is the food that feeds the soul, mind and body.

  2. Thanks Hannah,
    Appreciate your thoughts. Not sure I understand what 'wood book" means.

    Solitude is that for me as that feeds the soul, mind and body.
    I very much enjoyed visiting your website!

  3. beautiful post and art glad I stopped by.

  4. Thanks Laura. I appreciate this and much enjoyed reading your blog.

  5. Hi Janice--About the phrase "wood book:--I was translating Ester's last name "Buchholz" from the german: buch=book and holz=wood. I thought it was fun considering that she had also written a book:)

  6. A day alone, unplugged, rolls along swimmingly when I am in the studio. I have not yet done a week. AS an extrovert, I know it would have a push and a pull, as I need to bounce things off of someone from time to time...I enjoyed reading your experience of the week alone and unplugged.

  7. if courage is to follow your heart, i assume it is what you did to set up your solitary retreat. you followed your hearts longing thus were courageous. i think sometimes just to get up each morning and embark on a new day is courageous. In fact, for many in the world it is, those who live in war zones, those who havent enough food, those who live in sad and abusive situations or who face a day of illness and pain.

    Or even just those who arise and say hello today, what will you bring to me and for me and then launch forth into the day, courageous.

    havent heard anyone quote Paul Tillich or even mention him since my 60's college days.

    Thanks for the tip on the Call of Solitude book.

    ps i had that Kafka quote written out on an index card and affixed to the wall above my desk for many years.

  8. Dear Sukipoet,

    What a wonderful response to my post. You are right about 'courageous". I was limiting the word. Thanks for your beautiful thoughts.

  9. Thank you for this grat thoughtful post, very encouraging to search some time for yourself.This is so important if you aim to be creative.
    I always notice that most of my ideas come when I'm walking through nature with my dogs. Or before falling asleep at night. "Stealing" little lonesome moments...
    Your artwork is wonderful!