The Silence of Solitude

Ever think about solitude, and the silence that comes when you don’t speak or have noisy external influences? Not being alone or lonely, but intentional isolation to improve creativity or enjoy quality think time.

Nature spoke to me in the guise of silence. The quieter I become, the more I heard. – Erling Kagge

I’ve been reading, for the third time, Erling Kagge’s thought-inducing work Silence In the Age of Noise. Kagge is, among other pursuits, an explorer and the first person to complete the Three Poles Challenge on foot: Mt. Everest, the North Pole, and the South Pole. He has spent more time in silence than probably any hearing-enabled person alive, and above all, learned that silence does not mean absence of sound.

As a solo traveler, I spent time each day without speaking. My thoughts were my voice, my mind my ears hearing only when present minded and immersed in whatever surroundings I was in. As I discovered, nature is quite noisy when the radio isn’t on, the engine running, noisy tires rolling on pavement, or a conversation in play. Just sitting and listening opens one up to unnoticed sounds.

In 1951, John Cage, the composer of the famous (or infamous) 4'33" musical score, visited Harvard’s famed anachoic chamber known at the time as the quietest place in the world. Supposedly a “perfectly soundproofed tank,” Cage could still hear his blood coursing through veins behind his ears and the electrically buzzing of his nervous system. You might like to read more about his 4'33" score and his silence experience in the chamber.

This passage from Kaage’s book resonated with why I wandered nomadically for parts of two years:

A great many of us have a desire to return to something basic, authentic, and to find peace, to experience a small, quiet alternative to the din. There’s something slow and sustainable about such pursuits, something meditative.

I realize now this continues to drive me to the woods to immerse in nature, ideally with few others around. It’s also why I avoid touristy places, like exhibits on crafts or the history of long-dead humans, or even crowded art museums. Contemplating a period masterpiece is more profound amid the absence of sound.

To me, there’s nothing more primal and authentic than a return to the woods, to nature’s quiet and steady presence, to a place where I don’t need to speak or the internet to entertain me. Yet I enjoy writing in coffee shops where solitude for me includes ambient cafe sounds as white noise, contributing to my concentration.

Solitude is often a means to enhance creativity. From Dickinson to Whitman to Thoreau, these and many more writers and artists were solitaries and credit that as kindling for their inspirations. With the free space solitude embraces, external stimuli won’t interrupt the focus on one’s own ideas and thinking, thus providing the best environment for creativity.

Solitude (paired with silence) is one of the main keys to creativity because it can lead you straight to the emotions that need your attention most, and with it to the inspiration you are seeking. – Diana Pitaru, artist and therapist

Know someone who would enjoy reading this and subscribe to Please help support this site my work by forwarding this post to them.

Subscribe to Gary Varner

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.