Tuning In To Ourselves

Martin Wroe
2 min readApr 27, 2024


The restorative power in choosing solitude. A Thought For The Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today.

In the course of writing his new novel, You Are Here, the author David Nicholls began leaving his family and home in the city and heading to the mountains or the coast for long walks. All on his own.

You Are Here, published this week, is about loneliness and it features two middle aged people who find themselves alone in life… but not tortured by it. Nicholls says he didn’t want the story to be one where ‘being by yourself is pure hell’.

His words struck me. Being alone gets a bad press. We routinely confuse solitude with loneliness.

And while it’s true that loneliness, when it’s unchosen, can be painful and even a source of despair, electing to be alone with ourselves — for an intentional period of solitude — can be revivifying. And can enrich our lives in company.

But still, being alone can freak us out. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal put it four centuries ago, ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly, in a room, alone.’

Perhaps he was stretching the point but according to a new study, Solitude: The Science and Power of Being Alone, choosing to spend time on our own is as powerful for our wellbeing as having good relationships.

One of the authors, Professor Netta Weinstein at the University of Reading, says that in solitude our conversation turns inwards and we are able to tune in to ourselves. Perhaps we begin to understand how we might be friends with our selves.

Even brief periods of intentional solitary time can modulate emotion and reduce stress. For instance, she suggests, sitting in a room with the lights down gives the senses a rest, promoting a feeling of calm.

For some, aloneness comes when running or walking, but if our in-ear headphones are bringing us company from the endless digital universe, we might remain tuned out from our own deepest interior world.

Our souls, to use old language.

But it’s also possible to find solitude in company. On some Sunday mornings I head to a Quaker meeting house which is an edition of church where there are no sermons, no hymns and hardly any words.

The USP of the Quakers is silence, and as my life passes, I notice that on most days silence is a good place to have come from.

Jesus of Nazareth must have understood this, regularly sloping off alone into the wilderness.

He’s going to pray, said his friends, and maybe he was. Or maybe he just needed time with himself. Time to calm down, time to regulate his emotions. Maybe that’s also a kind of prayer.



Martin Wroe

‘Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.’