Monday, March 14, 2011

Solitude

Leon Neyfakh, at The Boston Globe, reviews some academic studies about the effects of being alone. Loneliness, i.e. yearning for human companionship, is not really the focus of the article — emerging evidence of benefits gained by time spent alone is. A few short excerpts:
...[A]n emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. ....

One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. ....

Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity. ....

...[P]eople who are socially connected with others can have a hard time identifying with people who are more distant from them. Spending a certain amount of time alone, the study suggests, can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals. .... [more]
...[H]e would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:16 (ESV)

Update: Via Ray Ortlund
“People today are afraid to be alone. This fear is a dominant mark of our society. Many now ceaselessly sit in the cinema or read novels about other people’s lives or watch dramas. Why? Simply to avoid having to face their own existence....

No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place of quiet — because, when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise....

The Christian is supposed to be very opposite: There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow it to speak to us and confront us.”

Francis Schaeffer, “Walking through the mud,” in No Little People (Downers Grove, 1974), pages 86-87.

I have calmed and quieted my soul. Psalm 131:2
The power of lonely - The Boston Globe, Quietness before God – Ray Ortlund