Solitude and Surrender

Older woman stands with amrs outstretched in field of wild flowersLately I have been reading about solitude and writing about surrender. They seem to go together and have much to say about the spiritual dimension of psychotherapy.

Solitude is usually defined as a period of time away from the company of other humans. However, within that definition there is a great deal of variation in terms of how much contact one has with the natural world other than humans. Solitude can be structured to minimize or maximize one’s contact with the natural world.

The minimalist version is the monk living in a hermitage where he stays inside to pray and meditate, living on food that is left for him by other monks whom he never (or rarely) sees. An intermediate version would be spending a few days and nights on a vision quest on a mountain, usually not far from one’s community of supporters down below.

The maximum version of contact with the natural world that I have come across is Robert Kull’s new book, Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes. It is a diary, edited with added commentary of his year alone on a remote island off the southern coast of Chile, relying completely on the food he brought with him and catching fish for his sustenance. There, the climate made physical survival an ongoing challenge as Kull sought psychological and spiritual sustenance through encountering the psychological and spiritual challenges of such deep solitude. He spent a good deal of his time outside the basic shelter he had built for himself, exposing and surrendering himself to being part of the wild forces of the natural world.

I believe we all hunger for surrender, whether or not we choose to expose ourselves to the extremes of the natural world. Our hunger is to know our unique soul’s purpose and to find the courage to surrender to it. Psychotherapy is at its core an enterprise devoted to facilitating such knowing and surrendering.

Although psychotherapy does not involve absolute solitude in that there is at least one other human present, it does involve an intention to spend some time each week separate from the usual human world. The time regularly spent only with one’s therapist or with other members of one’s therapy group is intended to facilitate the suspension of the usual constraints on human interaction, providing the opportunity to expose and surrender oneself to the wild forces of unconscious process.

In this way, it is similar to a period of solitude in the wilderness, exposing and surrendering oneself to the wild forces of the natural world. If the therapist’s office has windows that open to the natural world then the weather and/or non-humans outside can become co-therapists, inviting surrender to forces both internal and external.

© Copyright 2008 by John Rhead. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Austin

    Austin

    September 5th, 2008 at 3:07 AM

    I will be honest with you. I do not like solitude. maybe I am too afraid of what I will learn about myself. Surely there are others who feel the same.

  • Grayson

    Grayson

    September 8th, 2008 at 3:15 AM

    Well I like the time to myself. It gives me a time to reflect on the week or the day and to try to discover things that could have made it more productive, more anything. I am always looking for ways to grow and I find that quiet time to myself is one of the best things that I can do FOR myself to get better in touch with my emotions and mental state. I know that may sound a little quirky, but how will I ever really know my needs and true feelings if I have no time to spend alone with them? At the end of the day this time to myself makes me feel refreshed and renewed and ready to face the new challenges of tomorrow.

  • Melissa

    Melissa

    September 9th, 2008 at 1:24 AM

    There is definitely something to be said for time spent alone. It gives you time for reflection and inner peace. I like to do meditation exercises in my alone time and that helps to get me refocused and centered in a way that spending that time with others never could. I like to have a nice balance in my life and solitude and surrender are two very integral parts for a peaceful well being for me. I hope that others of you out there will try this and learn that it is not scary; it can actually be quite uplifting and freeing. Yes you may get emotional and learn new things about yourself but that is a good thing and not something to fear.

  • Kirsten

    Kirsten

    September 19th, 2008 at 1:32 AM

    When my baby was born, for almost a year I loved the days I could get up at 5 in the morning. It was the only half hour of my life for a year that I got to myself. I used to just linger in the bathroom trying to focus myself for the day. The times I had to take major decisions in my life like a career change or getting married, I remember going to the nearest lonely spot to just let go and think. All of us have things to do constantly. When we need to get a hold on ourselves or make a clear decision, we need to be by ourselves to be able to analyse it objectively.

  • Karen Allison

    Karen Allison

    September 23rd, 2008 at 9:01 AM

    I agree with you whole heartedly Kirsten! Alone time can be the best time of the day!

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