“Today, literally anything can be connected, including tennis rackets, diapers, clothing, vehicles and, of course, homes. And although people may find this unsettling, the network is also starting to include biological things: Today, pets, crops, livestock, and the clothing on your body can be connected. We’re not far from an Internet link you can actually swallow as a pill.”
— David Evans, CIO/VIP of Technology at the Computer History Museum / Interview with Security Boulevard
Technology has done wonderful things for us. However, we’re entering an age where you’ll always be “connected” in some way or another to a communication web. But is this a good thing?
Even if you travel to the most remote places in the world, there isn’t an escape from being connected. Elon Musk’s Starlink promises “high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable”. Even zero infrastructure isn’t a barrier to the ever-present connection.
5G will only tighten the never-ending link. A report from CNBC explains this new tech will allow an internet response 400 times quicker than the blink of an eye. Between the “Internet of Things” which connects the net to all devices, satellite links, and 5G, solitude may be a thing of the past.
The ability to find solitude may not appear important today. However, it is something necessary for a human mind deluged with information and stimulation. Societies across the world and time have reminded us of this. In our present age and the future, finding quiet time to yourself may become a practiced skill like a martial art.
Fortunately for us, many societies have left us their thoughts on the benefit of solitude and ways to find it. Starlink may take away remote hiding spots from “connection”, but there is always a place to get away. It’s within ourselves and we only have to look for it.
What’s more, we have a unique set of tools to find this solitude. None require 5G. They’re also beyond the reach of connection and no satellite can cover them.
Escaping To The Silence In Your Own Mind
“People try to get away from it all — to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful — more free of interruptions — than your own soul.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
This is one of my favorite historical quotes of all time. During his life Marcus Aurelius was likely the most famous person in the Roman Empire. Being emperor in a time of war and plague, he couldn’t just “get away” to a lavish beach and forget the world.
First, wherever he went he was recognized. Second, the problems he encountered wouldn’t go away so he could go on vacation. However, he still did manage to escape mentally, which likely prevented him from turning into a Caligula or Nero. All he needed was his journal.
Author Steven Kotler in Entrepreneur Magazine mentions he escapes into writing too. He calls it “no time” or quiet time. Every morning from 4 until 7:30 AM he sits alone and writes. He says this is an empty time where the demands of the world aren’t forced upon him.
In Ryan Holiday’s book, Stillness Is The Key, he mentions a childhood icon regularly did something similar. While Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) had a tight TV schedule, he had a similar mental escape daily.
Holiday says he’d wake up at 5AM every morning to reflect and pray. Afterwards, he headed off to the local YMCA to swim laps. During his “no time” in the pool, he’d sing the words from “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” in his mind. Rogers left the pool feeling energized.
Across the Atlantic in Finland, there’s another practice resembling the quiet time above. It’s called “Sisu”. While it doesn’t completely translate into English, it roughly means a grit, resiliency, or courage.
On the AOM podcast, Joanna Nylund author of Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, explains one of the ways to develop this characteristic is solitude and silence. Fins often find this in the outdoors in uncomfortable conditions. They also find it in labors of love, like manual work.
Tools For Escape
“…Following the path of a dō means engaging an enlightening practice reflectively and with full dedication. And this, for a long time — ideally for a lifetime.”
— Professor Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza, “Reflections on a Katana — The Japanese Pursuit of Performative Mastery”
I mentioned Marcus Aurelius previously. The philosopher king used Stoicism as an escape against the storms of life and an engine of improvement. However, while many use philosophy or meditation, the Japanese had another method for mentally getting away.
Professor Ilundáin-Agurruza explains the Japanese have a tradition called dō, which means “the way”. They take part in an engrossing hobby that takes supreme concentration and effort. You can often find “dō” as a suffix in many artforms practiced on the island. For instance kado (way of flowers) is flower arranging, shodo (way of writing) is calligraphy, and kendo (way of the sword) is a martial art.
It doesn’t matter if you hold a flower, sword, or pen in your hand. Each dō can help you escape from connection without leaving the range of ever-present WiFi. In my opinion, this is the answer.
So, let’s break these tools out a bit further.
Hobby or Practice
Like the practitioners above, a hobby is a great escape from connection. Whether you’re a practicing artist, like Winston Churchill, or a practicing martial artist like author Sam Harris, it’s a vacation without travel. For instance, Sir Winston used his painting hobby to escape the mental pummeling of war and politics.
Its only requirement is that it’s an engrossing activity. Think of dō. It’s more than just a hobby; it’s “the way” of escape.
Even though there may be others around you, there’s a type of solitude in the practice. It sounds like the Finnish idea of sisu. The total concentration into the art or hobby blocks out the world, like a shade blocking the sun.
Writing or Journal
While this may get lumped in with hobby, I consider it something completely different. Like Steven Kotler, I practice “no time”. I get up early and write before the world is awake to bother me. It’s a time of quiet and creativity, but this escape also takes place while I’m still wired to the world.
In addition to writing pieces for publication, you can also just write for yourself. In his book, Ryan Holiday reminds us Marcus Aurelius and Seneca regularly used journals to escape into their minds. There’s also the case of Anne Frank. She was able to escape from her hiding place for short periods into her journal.
Like the physical manifestation done with a hobby, exercise can also be an escape in its own right. Think of Mr. Rogers in his pool. The world didn’t exist as he was swimming laps — just the song in his head.
I’ve experienced this as well. In a long period of jumping rope, I’m the only person in the world for that span. I’ve also heard something similar from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In Tim Ferriss’s book Tools Of Titans, he interviews the body builder about exercise. At points Schwarzenegger almost makes it sound like a type of meditation. He explains when doing a lift, he’d focus all his attention on the movement of that muscle. It was like nothing else mattered in the world.
Solitude from the world exists in these moments of physical stress. Starlink can’t even break into that zone.