Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 26, 2011

The purpose of solitude

Definitely solitudinous. Canyonlands NP, Needles district, three minutes before sunset

I get back to my trailer before 5 pm daily — kick my boots off, fix a bite of supper, read a little, get comfortable… and know that I have five or six hours until bedtime. This is when all my practice living alone comes in handy. I do NOT need to be entertained… but these evenings can get long. It’s an invitation to welcome solitude and look for the gifts it can bring.

“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me — naked, vulnerable, weak, broken — nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness…”  (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)

Sunrise at Arches NP -- just me and this gorgeous pinnacle.

Out here in the stillness, looking inward comes much more readily. Soberingly, I find myself face to face with a person I don’t always enjoy being with. She can be selfish, lazy, judgmental, and egotistical… for starters. It is far easier to look at her positives — joyful, passionate, curious, ebullient. Solitude helps me come to a more balanced and accurate understanding of who I am… and then look toward who I want to become.

Nouwen describes “the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition.” Daily, restlessly, I try to convince myself that I’m much more ______ [insert any positive adjective here: wise, virtuous, kind, etc] than I really am. Gratefully, piece by piece, solitude dismantles that illusion.

Do you embrace, or avoid, solitude? Why?


  1. I definitely embrace solitude, though it is not always easy to find. I tend to “keep busy”, always something more to do! Just keeping the TV off helps!!

    Comment by kathy lewis — March 26, 2011 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

  2. The ‘Who’ that I seem to be has been formed in a ceaseless maelstrom of images, sounds, tastes, smells touches – and, most seductive of all – thoughts. It is as if our essential stuff has been forged amidst the clangor of our lives, but is this who we could have been? Is this who we really are?
    Good question – and the only way to find out is to set aside the ‘ten thousand things’ (Tao) and then set aside our quasi-Frankensteinian selves and see what is left – see what begins to emerge.
    For this one needs, at a minimum, lots of prolonged solitude – and lots of patience.

    Comment by leroque — March 26, 2011 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

  3. this post makes me smile. you are a master of words! so beautifully written. i find myself looking forward to your posts … for a few moments, i am living in your world and seeing all the beauty and experiencing all the wonders …

    Comment by erin ann — March 27, 2011 @ 9:36 am | Reply

    • If I can ever get a Facebook album created, you’ll see a lot MORE of the wonders, Erin. Thanks for reading. You make me smile.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 27, 2011 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Kathryn…..so enjoy your posts…..wish I could share a week or two with you.
    Solitude…..the older I get the more I long for it……drawing closer in a quiet way with my Father and also getting to know and actually “like” being with Ginger. (or course not ALWAYS liking her so much
    anyway…..thanks again for your adventure!!!! love, Ginger

    Comment by Ginger — March 28, 2011 @ 9:58 am | Reply

    • “The older I get, the more I long for it…” — yes, indeed, that is the absolute truth. Our lives are too noisy, too complicated, too detached. Our hearts are gravitating toward their true home.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 29, 2011 @ 8:20 am | Reply

  5. I love solitutde. After a day of working with people both on the phone and in person, I sometimes walk home and enjoy some silence; and a chance to listen to the world around me and the world beyond me. One can meditate, pray, compose poetry mentally, and enjoy nature. It does help to watch the traffic,though!

    Comment by chrisyoungman — March 29, 2011 @ 8:43 am | Reply

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