A couple of nights ago my boys and I and a couple of their friends went to a small island in a nearby river and camped for the night.
River Rat Island (self-named by a group of local friends) is a surreal place probably the size of a football field or two, packed with historically old live oak trees, towering pines and stalwart palmetto’s.
One night while camping we heard a pack of coyotes crying, and this past trip around five in the morning heard what was probably that last breath of a racoon as a predator swooped in under the cover of dark.
During a dinner of hot dogs and chili we opened Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man And The Sea and read of Santiago’s adventure into the deep waters off of the Cuban coast in search of the “Big Fish”.
I read for about 10 minutes, and then we just sat for a while around the same fire we used to cook dinner and chatted about nothing in particular.
It was quiet. At home, the boys want to stay up as late as possible. Out on the island they are ready for their hammocks around 10 in the evening.
These are teenage boys all in the prime of their growing into young men…Hemingway? 10 pm bedtime? Why the shift from the typical teenage stories of wild nights, tech obsessions, and a lack of motivation for learning?
I am convinced that quiet and solitude force souls, young and old, into a place of healthy and necessary contemplation, rest, and intentional thought.
You can almost literally feel your soul recharging in the moment. Anxiety loses grip, our addictive escapes aren’t quite as tempting, and exhaustion can easily be defeated in the darkness of the night.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic Screwtape Letters of the lead devil Screwtape who lays out the kingdom of our common enemy as the “Kingdom of Noise”, declaring with dark cunning, “Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless and vile…we will move the whole universe noise in the end.”
These boys were in an environment of peace and calm precisely because of solitude. They were not isolated, but only quiet.
In the quietness of simple surroundings, we were able to talk, laugh, read, listen, observe, and even sing (I brought my guitar and strummed an A-for-effort version of Robert Earl Keen’s “Mariano”).
Isolation would have led to loneliness, but solitude ironically fed community and health.
As the global pause button known as COVID-19 continues it is important that we grow in our ability to find and sit in solitude.
Jesus regularly retreated from the noise and the crowds, especially when his time was most in demand.
Many of the great artisans and movement-makers of our current and past societies have shared the habit of creating space for solitude. Pablo Picasso said, “without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
As business owners we must work each week to create times of solitude so we have margin from the daily grind of reports, billing, selling, creating, and marketing.
Making solitude is more important than making your widget.
Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters. Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at mybusinessonpurpose.com.