Do Not Disturb
My mother had never been the type to dole out a lot of unsolicited advice. So when she pulled me aside shortly before my wedding, I knew she had something really important to tell me.
"Be sure to make some time for you," she cautioned. "You're the kind of person who needs a little solitude now and then."
Like mother, like daughter. When I was growing up, my mother rarely got to be alone. By day, she worked side by side with my father in their family-owned business. At night, she came home to a three-bedroom house brimming with kids. When my four sisters and I weren't hogging her time and energy, we were invading her closet or making off with her mascara. It's little wonder she got up at 5 a.m. every day in order to claim a few minutes to herself.
That predawn ritual was just about her only escape. The moment she'd settle down on a Sunday afternoon with a paintbrush to work on one of her serene landscapes, my sisters and I would flock to her easel to watch. If my Dad were away overnight, we'd all jockey to sleep in his spot. My mother's privacy was so limited, we joked that her nightly baths were Standing Room Only.
Now that I'm the mother of two small boys, I'm thinking maybe she didn't find that wisecrack so funny. And I understand why she counseled me to safeguard my alone time -- she was preparing me, the most solitude-loving of her children, for the shock of becoming a wife, a mother, a "we."
She was also letting me in on a little secret shared by solitude seekers from Buddha to the office assistant who retreats to an empty park bench to eat her tuna sandwich undisturbed: Being by yourself pays off. Stepping away from the hustle and bustle of your crazy life -- even momentarily -- can lift your mood, tame stress, boost creativity, and show you who you really are. As T. Byram Karasu, MD, author of The Art of Serenity, puts it, "Solitude can be like therapy without the therapist."