The Power of Solitude: Finding Time to Reset

Written by Scott July 8, 2010

The Power of Solitude: Meditation and presence

“The great omission in American life is solitude…that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incinerator of the spirit.”

-Marya Mannes

Written by: Scott Dinsmore

Average Reading Time: 4.5 minutes

When was the last time you were alone? I mean really alone.

No people, no technology, no distractions whatsoever. For me the last time was 14 years ago on an Outward Bound program in the Oregon Three Sisters Wilderness area. I was left alone in the woods with nothing but a sleeping bag, water and a pencil and paper for 24 hours.

I hated it.

Being alone is scary. It causes us to question all kinds of things. Ourselves, our actions, our life. The distractions of the world are so many that ‘fortunately’ we can go practically our whole life without ever thinking deeply about what we’re doing. We are so caught up in the chatter of everyday life that we hardly have time to take a breath to ourselves.

Why is being alone considered such a bad thing?

We see people alone and we tend to feel badly for them. I used to do this all the time when I saw someone out at a restaurant with no one but themselves. After a year traveling and dining through Spain (often alone), it quickly became one of my favorite ways to see the world. So maybe we should be happy for those sole diners we come across. That might be right where they want to be. And just where you’d like to be if you knew better.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people. My life is my relationships. My favorite moments and memories exist because I had special people to share them with. But everyone once in a while, some alone time can be just the thing thing to keep you fresh.

The Benefits of Solitude

1. Doing things alone is awesome. You are in complete control and you get to let the moments take you wherever they please. You also are forced to get over your pride of what others think of you being all alone. There are no agendas or personalities to satisfy. You’ll see people and the world in an entirely different light. Just pure exploring. I fell in love with it. Solo travel is the perfect example.

2. You get to slow down. See and appreciate the world around you. Think consciously about your life without constantly reacting to the thousands of monkeys thrown on your back each day. Never forget The Art of Slowing Down.

3. You learn to appreciate your own company. Spending time alone allows us to get to know ourselves. To let it all hang out with no worry of others’ perceptions.

4. You do things you’d never do. When I’m alone I do so much more thinking, reading, writing, meditating, observing and exploring than I’d ever do around the hustle of society.

So I propose we do something about this fear and lack of solitude. Try going out and being alone for a while. The experience can be magical at best and much needed at worst.

How to Get the Most Out of Being Alone

1. Schedule it. Pick at least a night and ideally a full weekend or few days where you’ll be alone.

2. Leave town. Solitude can be experienced at home but I’ve found it best to get out of your surroundings. It helps break the pattern of everyday life and thinking.

3. Find a place without distractions. Maybe a friend or family’s mountain cabin, beach or lake house. Anything to get away. The cheapest and simplest is to pitch a tent in the woods for a few days. Maybe bring a copy of Walden with you. Another idea is a meditation retreat for a day, a few days or longer. You won’t have a choice but to slow down. Spirit Rock Meditation Center is a fantastic spot for this just outside of San Francisco in Marin. I have done one-day retreats there and loved it. I am currently enjoying my solitude at a nice little cabin in Lake Tahoe.

4. Be close to nature. This always helps get us back to our roots and immediately tends to calm the desire to do a million things at once. The fresh air, colors and sounds are some of the best therapy one can find.

5. East simply. Just stick to a bunch of water, nuts, fruits and vegetables if you can. Makes shopping cheap and easy and you might find yourself with a bit more energy when you return to reality.

6. Pack simply.There will be no one to impress out there so pack light. Only the bare necessities. Books, journal and a few personal items. Err on the side of less. Gives you one less thing to worry about before and during your adventure.

7. Get rid of your watch and schedule. Let the days flow as they may. For the first time in a while, you have nowhere to be.

8. Take some deep breaths. Find someplace quiet. Sit still. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Ideally do this outside. Think about nothing at all. Just listen and enjoy. Some call this meditation. Call it whatever you want. Take at least a couple 30 minute sessions a day to just be.

9. Ask the big questions of yourself. The ones you never have a chance to ask. What am I passionate about? What’s great in my life? What am I proud of? What is my purpose? What am I best at? What am I meant to do in this world? The point is not to solve life’s problems. It is to open your mind to them and address the idea that there’s a lot to be learned about yourself.

Technology or No technology?

For your first retreat I’d recommend no technology at all and especially no internet. Don’t kid yourself. If it’s there, it will consume you. Leave it behind. I’d even recommend a couple days with nothing. Not even a journal or book. Then you are guaranteed to do the things you never do at home. You are forced to simply be. There is nothing to check off or do so it’s impossible to be in a rush.

A good friend recently got back from a 10 day silent retreat where no books, journals or contact with anyone (including the people there) was allowed. He said it was the most difficult yet amazing experience he’s had. Never in life will it be possible to be this alone with yourself. Seize the opportunity.

When I have a pile of books and a journal with me for a few days alone, I learn and get a ton done but I always feel rushed. We want to avoid that feeling at all costs.

Whether you add technology depends on your goals. Are you retreating to silence so you can write those last few chapters to the book you’ve been putting off? Then bring it along but only allow it in designated times. Perhaps mornings and nights (so you can enjoy your days outside).

I’m on a three-day retreat as I write this. My goals were to catch up on a lot of writing, reading and thinking, so my computer was important to have. I’ve done more of all three in these last couple days than I can remember.

You Deserve Some Solitude

Life has gotten too complicated to not reserve some time to ourselves every once in a while. For those of you who claim you don’t have time for it, you are the ones who need it most. Trust me, I was there with you. Make solitude a priority and your mind and body will thank you. So will the people in your daily life when you return calm and present.

There will always be times in life when you are alone, whether it’s your decision or not. Get used to these times and learn to embrace them. They give us a chance to experience life in a way we never otherwise would.

“To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul. To do this, you need to experience solitude, which most people are afraid of, because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions.”

-Deepak Chopra

How do you get away from life and just be? How have you or could you benefit from solitude? Share with us in the comments.

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Books and Resources to Help You on Your Way:

The Power of Now

Learn to Meditate

Walden

Man’s Search for Meaning

Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Photo courtesy of anoldent
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“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn