Now is a really important time to hone these skills. Solitude is useful.
A century ago, people would look forward to solitary periods of relaxation on their porch after a long day of work. But today, we devote most of our conscious time to the pursuit of feeling connected with other people, both in the physical space and in the virtual world. A simple notification instantly pulls us away from the present moment. We are constantly everywhere EXCEPT it seems in the present moment, available in the here and now.
But our true self lives in the here and now, even though we seem to spend less and less time actually connected to the present moment. Multi-tasking has taken over and we are truly pulled out of our selves. And that is when things are going well. When the s- – -t hits the fan, we often want to run. We often run far into the many distractions of the modern world and away from our authentic self.
Well as 2020 began, my shit really hit the fan and I really wanted to run, but I couldn’t. There was a global pandemic hitting New York City and I had navigate keeping my mid-size independent business ( a day spa! ) open, and 38 employees safe and employed, while the government mandated a shut-down, the landlord mandated full rent and my immune system required me to stay away from people. To say it was a horrible situation is an absolute understatement. Cut to the end of 2020- I lost my successful business, forced to leave my home and my city, re-think my life and start anew.
It re-taught me to write again to read more, to think critically, to philosophize at length, to understand better about what is truly good for me, to love people unconditionally, and to be kind.
It showed me to look at things as they truly are and helped me catch a pause when I was being judgmental. It reduced anger and my desperation through regular mindful practices. It carried new dreams and filled me with hope.
Solitude has the power to teach us about ourselves. It is the gym where we must go to flex our muscles of personal growth. Solitude is useful , important for growth and healthy.
To practice solitude, try this:
1. Think of a simple activity that you can use as a mindful meditation.
Ideally, it should involve interaction with physical objects, not digital objects; no phones, tablets or screens of any kind. It should be mundane, and not involve rational thinking. This can provide you with an ideal setting for your true self to emerge. Some examples are doing the dishes, or weeding in your garden, focusing on your breath, or just sitting out in the yard, using all of your senses to take in what’s around you.
2. Set aside a fixed time during the day.
This is especially important if you are just starting out, because a strict regime is helpful to cultivate a habit. A good time is early in the morning. A recent study showed that early morning is the ideal time for alpha wave activity in the brain, which is associated with restful attentiveness. But depending on your schedule or your routine, any other time of the day is good enough to start with. It is really important to do what works for YOU or you won’t do it at all. Start with ten minutes and slowly make your way up to an hour if possible. There’s no right or wrong duration, but the more the better.
3. Start with an intention.
Make a decision to consciously choose solitude. Embrace it like it’s your best friend. Know that it is good for you, that it is the right thing for you. That there is nothing better you’d rather do right now, and no one more important to talk to than yourself.
Most importantly, don’t get too serious. Develop a sense of joy, a sense of humor about the whole thing.
Sometimes it all may seem impossible, especially when painful memories and a sense of loss come back with profound pain. It may feel hopeless as the thoughts and feelings overwhelm you. But believe that those thoughts and feelings are like a movie playing in your head. They do not define your reality in the present moment. Do not let them consume you.
Believe you are the mountain in the storm. And when the thoughts and feelings eventually pass, which they will, come back to your practice. Develop almost a blind devotion to it in the beginning, because it may take many sittings to feel the first signs of solidity and bliss coming back.
If you are finding it tough to start by yourself, go to a local yoga or meditation class and work on your basic form. Then come back and try it again.
4. Start enjoying your own company whenever the opportunity arises.
As you start building a regiment for solitude, you will start to appreciate the moments you have to yourself. While you wait for your friend at the subway before you head to that party together. While you wait for a delicious meal to arrive after deciding to eat out by yourself.
Think of those fleeting minutes as a gift, as an opportunity to see if you can appreciate the world around you. Wait a moment or a few before you take out your phone or put on your music. Can you see how solid and calm you feel now, compared to before? How rich the world around you is? Give yourself a high-five for putting in all those hours of solitude practice. Hopefully it is starting to feel good to be alone.
And if by chance that solitude is forced upon you by a tragedy or unforeseen event, that is an opportunity as well. Because when your heart is broken it’s the most open, and ripe for new wisdom and the richness of the world to take root. Acclaimed author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says, “To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening,”.
Be practiced and intentional. Soon you will get to know the most interesting person you have ever met even more intimately, and that person, yes…is YOU. The one who will always be with you, no matter what else you lose.