The Need for Solitude

Henry David Thoreau is perhaps best known for the time he spent living simply in a small cabin he built on Walden Pond. During that time, he sought time to concentrate on his writing. Many think of this time alone as a lonely existence. But for Thoreau, he had a different thought: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

Solitude to Thoreau was having a dialogue with his thoughts. That was chair number one.  He was developing a sense of who he was. And by understanding himself better, he was able to understand others better.

Neuroscientists have discovered that solitude is necessary for developing empathy with others. The capacity for solitude is essential for those who think deeply, value others sincerely, and develop breakthroughs in understanding. Solitude carries with it a glory of being alone.

Have we lost our ability to develop a capacity for solitude? Think of the challenges you face in creating a Walden Pond experience for just one day. We live in a connected world where demands on our time are just a key pad away from those who want to connect with us.

We live in a culture of continual sharing. We feel the need to tell others about what is happening in our lives. And we feel a need to keep up-to-date in what is happening in the lives of our “friends”.

How might we develop a capacity for solitude? Here are some thoughts that might be worth pursuing.

  • Find an activity that you are passionate about and let that activity become the solitude part of your life. While engaged in the activity, you will have the opportunity to have a conversation with your thinking.
  • Find solitude locations where you can be alone with just paper and pen. Use the travel time to the location to frame your thoughts and capture them on paper (no technology).
  • Change your schedule so that you can have solitude time each day when others are unlikely to interrupt you (i.e. early morning or late at night)
  • Take solitude “vacations” where you are alone and have time to explore new surroundings. Let the newness of the experience become the catalyst for new thoughts.


Solitude may be associated with loneliness but that is not the case. You are not alone when you practice solitude because you are enjoying the comfort of your thoughts.

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“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” – Pablo Picasso


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