The incubator of the spirit

The Lincoln Memorial provides a space for solitude in crowded DC, April 2012

The Lincoln Memorial provides a space for solitude in crowded DC, April 2012

“The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit.” 
Marya Mannes

I relish solitude, but loneliness is one of the most painful emotions I know of.  It’s tricky at times to figure out where the difference lies, but I think loneliness comes over us when we feel as if no one understands, knows or cares about what we are experiencing.  When I maintain ties to people I love– which takes mutual time and effort– I can experience endless hours of solitude and love every minute.

Perhaps solitude is increasingly omitted from American life partly because most of us do fear loneliness.  But ironically, as Mannes points out, loneliness is never more troublesome than when we feel it in the midst of a crowd.

I believe that part of the allure of the admittedly risky profusion of online social networking lies in the ability to connect to others with whom we share common thoughts, impressions and emotions.  While online contact can never take the place of face-to-face interaction, it does allow us to gather into “tribes” of other humans who have similar interests, burdens, challenges or goals.  This sharing adds a wonderful dimension to life for many of us who connect through words and photos.

Still, it’s important to leave “that zone of time and space” apart from the noise of life.  Many of us are fortunate to have spouses, friends or family members who understand and honor our need for solitude.  With such companions, or alone, I hope you will find some time and space today for your spirit to be nourished by quiet.


  1. Yesterday my 3-year-old grandson, when learning that my husband wasn’t home, said, “Are you lonely?” I was surprised that he even knew the word, let alone to use it correctly. I assured him that I had much to do alone and would not be lonely. But your piece today expresses very well how I feel and I love your definition of the difference in loneliness and solitude–which I greatly enjoy.

    • Isn’t it amazing that one so young is already understanding a fairly profound concept? But I think children feel loneliness keenly, not least because they are surrounded by people and a world that are all largely too complex to comprehend. Thanks for visiting, and for your comment!

  2. Annie

    I agree, Julia. For me, feeling lonely can lead to desperation, but solitude actually strengthens me. Very insightful post. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked the post. It really is a delicate balance to stay connected and still allow ourselves adequate time alone. One reason I’ve always loved reading and writing is that it nourishes both sides of that balance. What I have found most rewarding about blogging is the interactive nature of it. In traditional publishing, one waits months (and sometimes even years) before a finished work sees publication, and then there are no guarantees you’ll get much feedback. It’s so helpful as a writer, photographer or really any sort of artist to get responses and find out how your work affects people. Most of us who write do so to connect with people, and blogging is a great way to do that. I appreciate your reading and commenting!

  3. Patricia

    We haven’t heard from you on the UR site in a while. Please know you and yours are in our prayers.

    • Thanks Patricia, I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know you are praying for us and thinking of us. I really miss my UR family since that was how I started my day for so long. Since Jeff has been in the hospital I am way behind on so many things. I am hoping to get by the UR site tonight (which will probably be tomorrow by the time I get there) since late at night is about my only time to be able to read up on everyone. Jeff is STILL in the hospital and it’s been seemingly one complication after another. I’ll try to get an update to everyone soon. Meanwhile thanks so much for being here and letting me know you all are with us in thought and prayer.

  4. Solitude – I enjoy certain kinds of it depending on my mood. During my childhood I used to spend hours by the stream and in the paddy fields in our village. Even now it is silence and solitude that I prefer. The picture well depicts the idea of the plot.

    • Thanks Bindu, I’m glad you like the post. My husband and older son both prefer solitude to company. They like having friends but they need more than the usual quota of quiet time alone. My younger son is more like me; he loves people but gets over-stimulated very easily and needs quiet time to calm down. For those who are parents, solitude becomes a rare gift to be cherished!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, I truly owe you an apology for not advising the UR family about Jeff and asking for continuing prayers. I’m so sorry. Sheila

    • Sheila, no problem at all – I did not expect you to let them know. I knew I would eventually get on over there and update everyone. I am going to try to post an update tonight but it will probably be tomorrow by the time it goes on. He is doing OK, just feeling exhausted and sick of being sick. The doctors feel that this is one of those things that is just going to take time, but now that he is taking in some nutrition, he should be on the mend. Please don’t feel bad, you have been so faithful to visit us here and we have been so happy to have your friendship and prayers. Thanks so much for being here!

  6. Larry

    One of those sacred passages that come to mind for a moment of solitude is “Be still and know that I am God” This one goes a long way for me knowing that even when alone, God is always present. I made mention the other week at church that even in the darkness of a cave below the earth’s surface, God is there. If you have ever sat in the sub-terrain and and turned off the flashlight, it’s amazing how close things can seem.

    • Larry, we were in the Cave of the Winds in Colorado and experienced that “moment of darkness” that so many of those places give tourists, to help them understand what it’s like to have NO light at all. In such situations, darkness becomes almost thick enough to reach out and touch. But yes, there is nowhere we can go that we are without God. I think once I grasped that, and really understood it, it went a long way toward alleviating my lifelong tendancies toward anxiety. Not that it doesn’t still get terrifying sometimes, but after you’ve been through the tunnel and found the light at the other end, the tunnels are never as terrifying again. Thanks for visiting here and for your comments!

  7. Having time to nurture mind, body and soul is such a luxury that so many in the world can only dream of. I feel so privileged. I’m afraid I can be very selfish about my alone time. I always enjoy outings with friends or hosting but also could very easily go the other way. Sounds like we may have that in common Julia. We were just discussing it the other day, Mr B. thinks I have a mild social anxiety issue. I don’t know if it’s that tragic, but I really do enjoy the peacefulness of home. Wishing you peace and comfort this week.

    • I have told Jeff quite a few times lately that I sometimes wonder if I have a mild form of agoraphobia. I’m happy at home for unlimited hours, I know that. But when I get out and about, I feel energized and love that too. I think I have social anxiety to a fairly high degree. I feel very ill at ease in groups and at social occasions, probably because I was always a bit of a misfit in childhood and youth, and that feeling has lasted. But I’m also gregarious and outspoken, which seems contradictory to being socially anxious, but isn’t necessarily. When I feel out of place is when things are superficial; when they’re about who you are or what you are wearing or what you do. When the topic is more significant or the crowd more diverse and casual, my curiosity and interest in people trumps my anxiety. In any case, there’s nothing whatsoever abnormal or wrong with being happy at home, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! We would be without some of our greatest works of art, music and literature if there were not some who were happy to spend long hours alone.

  8. It can be a genuine concern for sure. They recently started doing road construction on an old bridge near downtown and all the traffic is re-routed to another ‘older’ bridge which is also scheduled for a rebuild right after project 1 is done. I already have anxiety about having to stop in traffic on a bridge, let alone one that’s getting so much more traffic than usual. Of course, the other day my worst nightmare came true. I almost felt like abandoning my car and running off that darn bridge. It took every once of rationality I had to not freak right out and had to concentrate on the light turning green ahead more than where I was. It was a full blown panic attack. So, I’m now going to drive 15 blocks out of my way to avoid that bridge cause it was just too much. It still makes my anxious when I think about it today.

    • Ah, I see what you mean. I hope you didn’t get stuck in traffic on any of the bridges in NorCal – there are so many of them there, and also in Southeastern Virginia where we live part time. It’s a good thing you weren’t with me on the morning of one of Matt’s heart surgeries down in Norfolk a few years back. Jeff had spent the night in the hospital with him the night before surgery, and I went home to take care of the dog – got up at 5 am the next day and headed over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (quite a long one) to get back to the hospital for the surgery and of all times, there was a wreck in the tunnel and everything just stopped (I was over the water on the part of the bridge just before the tunnel.) People were parked and walking around. Everything was just stopped for more than an hour. I was panicky at the thought of not being able to see Matt before he went under anesthesia, but the operation had to go on without me. Then as luck would have it, the other major bridge in the area (the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel) had a wreck that blocked it too, and it ended up being the worst traffic day in history for Hampton Roads. AND to top it all off, then when the traffic started going, my car wouldn’t start! and there was nowhere to pull over! I’ll spare you the rest of the details except to say it was pretty harrowing, and anyone afraid of bridges would have freaked out even worse than I did! But anyway, I think having a phobia about bridges is pretty common. You could maybe take a class of some kind at a local clinic that deals with that sort of thing. Meanwhile stay away from New Orleans; I’ve heard there’s a bridge there that takes about an hour to get across! I think our lives today are so generally stressful that any sort of anxiety is greatly exacerbated. It’s great that you are so good with crafts – I’m no good at them but I find them to be very calming! So maybe it is therapeutic for you and the rest of us benefit from the lovely things you make.

      • That sounds positively wretched Julia, what a terrible time to have that kind of nonsense mess up the day when you’re rushing to your sons surgery. I probably would have been in tears, no kidding. I suppose everyone was honking when you couldn’t get going again. That’s one for the Dear Diary for sure. Man o man. We have the HighLevel Bridge here (I’ve featured it), I avoid it at all costs in a car. We do walk across, it takes about 10 minutes, somehow I feel more safe than in a car and think “I’ll make a run for it if I need”. How silly really. It’s so strange, I don’t remember any traffic jams in California, HA….I guess I was just too overjoyed to be there and visiting Alys. I like your idea of finding a class….must look into it, I sometimes feel like I’m getting more neurotic every year…if that’s even possible HA.

        • A science teacher in high school told us that anyone who wasn’t at least a bit neurotic was probably a bit psychotic, and of the two, neurotic was preferable. She didn’t seem to be joking! I’m serious, I think that contemporary life is fraught with neuroses and getting more so. Almost everyone has a few things that terrify them, and although the objects of dread vary from person to person, it seems that most of it springs from a sort of generalized hypervigilance from having too much to keep up with. I just don’t think our brains can evolve fast enough to keep up with technological “progress.” I do think you hinted at the solution, though…when we are busy with good things to do, it really does help to center us and allay some of those fears. SO, I prescribe some more fun! 🙂

          • Well no hallucinations have transpired, so hopefully it’s not the later HA. I certainly like the Rx you have in mind, I best get busy.

            • I forgot to add the prescription directions, “take as often as needed with your favorite blend of coffee.” 🙂

              • 😀 HA, thanks Julia, I won’t have trouble remember that one. Here’s a cartoon I made the other day…sooooo me. It’d be so much quicker this way…LOL

                • Yes, quicker, but it bypasses the taste buds and probably doesn’t smell nearly as heavenly! I always loved the smell of coffee even when I never drank it.


  1. The rest of the mind | Defeat Despair

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