Ever notice how you have the best thoughts in the shower? You know what I mean, those “aha!” moments where you finally figure something out. Maybe it’s the solution to a problem you haven’t been able to solve, or it’s a brilliant new business idea. There’s a reason you have some of your best thoughts in the shower. Solitude. You’re alone; with your thoughts, with God, with the spirits, whatever. You have time to hear that voice inside your head, to figure things out – even to figure out who you are. You’re not distracted by the television, or the radio, or the computer, or the smartphone, or other people. It’s just you and the voice. Alone. Free. For a few precious moments. These moments are invaluable, if you use them properly. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” 1
That’s easy to say, right? But doing it is another matter. We live in a busy world that’s full of noise, with things to do and people to see. It can be hard to even come by spare moments, much less guard them well. As time goes on, this is becoming more and more of a reality, making it all the more important that you do guard them well.
People and things are constantly demanding your attention, and these attention seekers have a bigger effect than you may realize. Any time something has your attention, it essentially has control of your mind, for that moment. When you watch the news, your mind thinks about what they say. When you listen to the radio, whether it be music or talk shows, you think about what they say. When you have conversations with people, you think about what they say. Even reading this you’re thinking about what I’m saying. That’s all fairly obvious until you realize that if you don’t make time for solitude, your life is made up almost entirely of these moments where someone or something else is controlling your mind, drowning out that voice inside your head.
The voice inside your head is a wise one. It knows things. Listening to it and developing a relationship with it (or with God or the spirits or whatever you believe) makes both it and you stronger. The thing is, it’s hard to hear that voice and to develop that relationship when everything is constantly demanding your attention. You must make time for solitude.
Some of the greatest and most prominent figures of all time – Buddha, Beethoven, Einstein, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Newton, Thoreau – made time for solitude to deal with the demands of daily life. They had crucial revelations during their alone time. They knew the value of solitude and so should you.
You must recognize the value of these spare moments and stop treating them like a problem that needs to be solved by some gadget that drowns out that voice. But you can’t take it lightly and only make time once a week or once a month. As you must spend plenty of time with your family and friends to develop a solid relationship, you must spend plenty of time with yourself and that voice to really develop the relationship.
Don’t let our culture teach you to throw out these uncut diamonds. Hold onto them. Make time for them. Polish them. Listen to that voice inside your head. Develop that relationship. The more attention you give it, the more you polish and improve it, and the more valuable it becomes to you and to the people and the world around you.
We’re all different and I can’t tell you how life changing it will be for you. You have to figure that out on your own. I can only tell you that it has been life changing for me and for everyone I know who has taken the time to do the same.
Guard well your spare moments. You need them. You deserve them.
Now go take a shower.
1. This quote has been heavily attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I haven’t been able to find it in any of his writings. Searching the internet to find when and where he said or wrote this hasn’t been fruitful, as this quote is so widely used all I’ve been able to find are regurgitations of the quote and not its origin. Any insight into when and where he said this, if indeed he did, would be greatly appreciated.