William Deresiewicz penned an excellent article last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education about “the end of solitude” (http://chronicle.com/article/The-End-of-Solitude/3708).
Experiencing solitude, ideally in nature, is a wonderful way to rest attention capacities, and reflect on life. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan (1989), faculty at the University of Michigan, explain the importance of attention restoration that time in nature provides. They describe how the resting of voluntary, or directed attention (attention that requires effort to stay focused) is possible when we are in natural environments that offer “soft fascination” such as bird songs, waterfalls, views of sunsets and the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Environments that offer soft fascination allow directed attention to rest, and involuntary attention to become active. Involuntary attention does not require effort. This relaxing of the mind can have many psychological benefits, and provides opportunities for reflection.
Those of us who spend time in nature can help to re-introduce a culture that has become disconnected from it. Technology and the pace of urban life now consume many people who are addicted to instant access to information and constant connectivity. We can help others understand that there is value in nature, that it provides unique opportunities to experience solitude, and to reflect.
Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.