The Purpose & Benefit of Solitude: How to Honor Your Desire to Be Alone.

picture-17Ever since I was a little kid, I would escape the house, go outside, climb a tree and listen to the wind. I found solace in nature, even if it was only in my backyard.

Although it would often intensify my loneliness, it somehow helped. Years later I would trek into the wilds alone for self-reflection. There I would ask big questions. There I might solve problems or attempt to figure out what painful emotion I was experiencing.

Sometimes I was running away from something. Other times I was running toward something.

After college I traveled to Central America alone to “find myself.” Running the same patterns and having no real mentor, I wound up missing home and was frustrated by my lack of clarity and confusion.

Soon after I began to lead wilderness trips and facilitate a “solo” wherein teenage boys and girls would spend 3 days and nights alone in the wilderness, far enough away from us that they could experience utter aloneness but still be at a safe distance for support if need be.

Since 1997, I have led wilderness journeys and the critical highlight still remains the solo. Most participants report that is often the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of the trip.

Today whenever I have to make a major decision or sit in the fire of something really painful, what do I do? Solitude.

On June 21, the summer solstice I want to invite you to join me and nine other men for a day of self-reflection and space away from your everyday life.


Let me explain…

I recently interviewed Bob Kull, author of “Solitude, Seeking Wisdom In Extremes.” Bob spent a year alone in the Wilderness of South America and made some important discoveries about himself and about life that we can all learn from.

Bob has some amazing and profound stories that might shock you.

I’m not suggesting you cut bait and leave your life for the wilderness for a year. I am suggesting that even if you commit to 1 hour a week of solitude there will be benefits.

In our fast paced society, we often claim we don’t have time to be alone, yet many men long for it. We long to “get away” and just rest in the big space of the wild or the open road. Can you relate to this?

I can’t tell you how many men I work with report the desire for space, yet a feeling that it is difficult to follow through with this, particularly if these men are married, have children, or work full time.

My challenge and invitation to you is to not let the real life situation you are in become an excuse as to why you do not honor that voice within you.

You deserve time alone and there may be a hidden benefit within that solitude that you are not even aware of.

So, what does this look like?

I’m going to recommend that solitude be uninterrupted time where you are indeed alone and free from distractions such as cell phones, computers, people, and even food.

Notice what your ideas are about being alone. Many people think that they spend plenty of time alone such as the one hour commute to work or while they are jogging, working out, and listening to their ipod. What I’m suggesting is quite different.

For example, for many Native American tribes solitude meant a vision quest where they sat in one spot for four days and four nights without food or water to pray for a vision for their people. Any movement outside their solo spot was considered a distraction and took them away from their meditation and prayer.

I have done many solos in my life from meditating alone in a cabin for two weeks nine hours a day to a more traditional vision quest. Now, with a new four month-old son, solitude means meditating in my home for 20-45 minutes per day.

Then, if I’m lucky I might take one or two short retreats per year where I head out into the woods or a retreat cabin for several days to go deeper.

Okay, I’m interested, but what should I do?

I’m sure we’ll hear more from Bob, but in the meantime here are a few pointers on how and where to get started.

  1. Prepare in advance to take time alone. Get permission from work or your family to support you in spending some time alone. Sometimes, we just need to “head for the hills” to get away, but I’m encouraging you to make this a conscious, regular practice where you let others know your intentions.
  2. Set an intention and share it. Letting my wife know that I’m doing some “me time” or alone time is much more open than just sneaking away for some alone time. Do this consciously. Let your partner know. Let another man know. If you are going out for an extended period in the woods, it is essential you let someone know where you are and how long you intend to be there. You might get more specific by focussing on a life theme such as, “My intention is to reflect on my life’s purpose.” Or, “My intention is to reflect on my current breakup and be with the loss and grief.”
  3. Decide how much time you want to spend alone. Is it a week? A day? Or will it be a daily practice for 1 hr each day wherein you are just with yourself. Consider joining us on June 21 and make a commitment to be still and alone for a period of time.
  4. Determine where: Home? A retreat cabin? The woods?
  5. Limit your distractions. For example, if you choose to be outside in a park or in nature, limit your movement. For me, going on a hike is different than sitting in the same spot for several hours. If you want to challenge yourself, sit still and don’t move much at all. The more you move, the more distractions there are. I would recommend not journaling, listening to music or reading. These are other ways to distract yourself during true solitude.
  6. Meditate: Find a method that allows for you to be present with your experience. Sitting still is very very difficult. Sitting without incessant thoughts is even more difficult and requires ongoing practice. Be gentle with yourself. No need to judge yourself.  The idea here is to just be present with your experience and watch the display unfold—all of it, including thoughts, emotions and boredom (Here are some pointers)
  7. Be kind to yourself. No need to be too rigid here or force anything. Give yourself permission to think and reflect on your life.
  8. Share your experience with someone. Upon completion, let someone know if this type of personal time served you and how you are going to commit to doing more of it in the future.

Let’s face it, we all need time alone. Make a commitment to yourself to start listening to that voice inside that craves, and might even need, some space.

Report back. What do you believe is the value and benefit of alone time? Let us know your experience!

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