The Role of Solitude in Creativity and Justice-Making

There can be no in-depth or spiritual living without solitude. Otto Rank, who has been credited with fathering the humanistic school of psychology that boasts such notables as Rollo May, Karl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow understood this, and he offers reasons why this is the case.

“Untitled” Photo by 3MotionalStudio, Pexels

Rank tells us that the creative person (what we are calling the mystic and prophet) struggles “against the community of living men and against posterity.” The prophetic struggle is one of trying to escape “collectivizing influences by deliberate new creations.” For this some solitude is essential.

The struggle is against social ideologies which postpone life and living. More often than not it is a struggle against oneself insofar as the “self” or ego has incorporated such ideologies. When persons in a group overreact to the spiritual person’s struggle, it invariably takes the form of envy and jealousy, a collective condemnation of the creative person’s efforts.

The notion that spiritual greatness seeks fame and success is itself a projection by the unproductive, or what Rank calls the neurotic, individual who has surrendered his or her vocation to greatness.

Rank insists that every truly creative person knows that success is the enemy of creativity. “Success is therefore a stimulus to creativity only so long as it is not attained,” he warns. Thus, the need for solitude—to get away from any fame or success that comes with being true to the imago Dei in one.

“Man Playing Guitar” Photo by Anita Peeples on Unsplash

Jesus, who was so creative both in his message and in his messaging by way of parable-telling, was intent on preaching the coming of the divine reign now. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” he teaches people to pray. The Creator of all watches over even the sparrow falling from the nest, so there is no need to fear. Rather, embrace the time and give birth to a new messianic time. Create!

Another need for solitude on the part of a creative person–Jesus’ being driven out to the desert or to the mountains or to boats to get away from the crowd–is to escape the collective-immortality impulses or projections of others—impulses that may be expressed positively or negatively.

True spiritual living includes the dialectic of solitude and social interaction that Jesus and other spiritual persons have learned to balance.  The two dynamics are not in contradiction.  Instead they serve one another for without the solitude what is creative or new may never be born.  And without others there is no one to whom to give the gift.


Adapted from: Matthew Fox, “Otto Rank on the Artistic Journey as a Spiritual Journey, the Spiritual Journey as an Artistic Journey in Foxm Wrestling with The Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life, pp. 207-209.
Banner Image: “Looking Up” Photo by Eris Setiawan on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How have you found ways of solitude in your otherwise busy life?  Have these ways evolved over the years?  If so, from what to what?

How does your solitude feed your moral imagination and actions in the world?

Recommended Reading

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages in substantive discussions with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets on today’s social and spiritual issues on such challenging topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interspirituality, and more.


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4 thoughts on “The Role of Solitude in Creativity and Justice-Making”

  1. Avatar

    I believe, Matthew Fox,that we are meant to be co creators with God and that neurosis comes upon us when we go too far away from solitude ,
    My question now in my later life, is why is there so little emphasis on the woman who gives birth…0ne of the most beautiful things the body creates The emphasis is on abortion and the death of a woman’s soul as doctors promote cesarean birth actually taking away the full experience of birth for both mother and child. I believe women have been hyjacked from their creative selves.
    And it is another form of defeating the woman’s role in co creation.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you, Bettina, for bringing up this important issue. The assault on the mother, mother earth and individual mothers has attempted to take the power from women giving birth. When many of the baby boomers were born, mothers in labor were put to sleep just as their baby’s head was crowning. So she was not awake for the miracle of birth or for bonding with her baby. What toll could this on the mother-child bond if the baby is received as a commodity by disinterested medical staff rather than its mother? Could this also be part of our detachment from Mother Earth and women as birth givers?
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    The trick to it all is “to live in the NOW.” Not in silence, but in STILLNESS. Of the moment, or the day, or 20 minutes from NOW. WITH awareness of our SELF as PRESENT NOW PERIOD. And recognize our breathing quietly in the stillness that encompasses us without MENTALLY thinking about it, as we move about our daily business of living. The “operative message” in effect is “DO NOT PROJECT.” In other words, Do Not Bring your mind into the same room with your body or your unfocussed eyes into THINKING about anything. SIMPLY be. In the NOW. The PRESENT breath. And then repeat the exercise until it becomes automatic with the intake and release of each breath.
    As I said, there’s a “trick” to it. You can’t reason your way into such place or situation. It’s just THERE to be discovered…NOT “found.” IT’S ALREADY “THERE” and WAITING.
    Thank you, Matthew. I appreciate your Meditations and Posts, plus comments. It’s helpful in keeping me on track. Peace and Blessings to you and those you love. Amen.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Barbara,
      Thank you for sharing the experience of your your practice of stillness in the present moment. It was beautifully expressed.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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