Serenity and Solitude: Essential Ingredients for Quality of Life

By Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D.

One of the true masters of the art of serenity was the great inventor Thomas Alva Edison. When his factory burned down, he did not bemoan his fate. The newspaper reporters who went to interview him immediately following the disaster found him calmly at work on plans for a new building.

Everyone needs time for solitude and silence. During those precious times can be found the peace of your own company. While few of us would choose lifelong solitude, all of us can benefit from some time to ourselves. We may differ from our friends, colleagues and partners in the amount, frequency and urgency of our need, as well as in the way we spend our personal time. We may have trouble carving out periods of privacy, or even feel guilty claiming them, but when we're deprived for too long, we experience distress and lack of balance.

Sometimes finding time to be alone is a difficult thing. One of my friends has three children and rarely has time to herself. She is very busy working and raising the children. I suggested she give herself permission to call some time her own. Now, after she drops off a child at dance lessons, she either pulls out a favorite book and reads in her car or she spends time in meditation. There are no phones, no people, no distractions. She has an hour of quiet and solitude to do or think as she pleases.

When I'm conducting a workshop, I often ask the participants to go outside for 15 minutes and stroll the grounds alone in silence. I have them experience and practice being totally involved and absorbed in what they see, smell, feel, touch or hear. I want them to let nature's beauty into their awareness. No matter what part of the world we are in, I always have participants come to me afterwards and say that this was their first experience of being truly alone and finding peace in their own company.

What I have discovered in taking this kind of walk is that I feel a subtle, gentle communion with nature. I build a garden of the soul. The flowers, trees, birds, clouds and even insects seem to be in communication with me. It rejuvenates my entire being and allows me to be more fully aware of my environment, sensitive to nature and connected to feeling my oneness with all life.

Several years ago, I spent time in a monastery in which disciplined silence was required 24 hours a day. At first it was difficult. There was so much I was feeling, experiencing and seeing that I wanted to share with the others. Then, slowly and subtly, I discovered that the silence was overwhelmingly blissful. It was almost as though a gentle wave of peace rolled over me. There was nothing but silence—all around me, through me, and everywhere expanding and reaching out to touch all creation. Things that touch the heart are often difficult to put into words, and this was one of those experiences. I just knew that I loved the silence, reveled in it, and wanted to have it with me always.

Since that time at the monastery, I carry this silence with me. Even in conversation, I am aware of this quietness beneath the sounds of people's voices. Although I sometimes lose awareness of it, I can recall it and let it once again be a source of great peace and joy, like the awareness of a close and loving friend.

Since my experience at the monastery, I now find time for regular periods of solitude and silence. I recognize that I choose more solitude than most. Not only do I meditate at least twice a day, but I also take off several hours once a week, one weekend a month, and a few days with each change of season to simply be alone and embrace silence. 

When was the last time you were alone—I mean really alone—listening to the silence of your heart, being at peace with your own company.

Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D., has made wellness her life’s mission. A long-time instructor at UCLA, she is the author of more than 26 books and 2,000 articles on health. To learn more about the herbs and supplements mentioned in this article, where to order them, and for more tips on optimal health, visit susansmithjones.com.