What Happens When You Spend Time Alone (and Why You Need to Go On a Solo Retreat Now)
Earlier this year I took a solo, week-long trip to Lake Tahoe that I called my “solo retreat” in an effort to spend time alone, away from the stress of every day life, give my body a little extra time, space and relaxation to heal (if you don’t know what I’m healing from, read my first post!), and just get better connected with myself. A lot of people are afraid to spend time alone – I’m SO not one of those people. I love my alone time. But I think it’s important for everyone, especially for people afraid of being alone, to spend an extended amount of QT (quality time) alone with yourself every so often to recharge your batteries and make sure you’re able to hear your inner guide/voice/soul or whatever you personally call it. So what happens when you spend time alone (like a week!) and why should you schedule some of this time for yourself asap?
You learn new things about yourself
When you spend time alone you have no one else to talk to or share your thoughts with. You only have yourself to contemplate and converse with – and you never know what sorts of things will pop into your head until you’re alone with your thoughts. Have you ever spent more than a few days alone with no one to talk to? I have to tell you, it’s pretty interesting what starts to happen.
We’re constantly bombarded with so much noise, distraction, and external influences in our everyday lives from the people around us, to advertisements, our jobs, tv shows, you name it. All telling us how to behave, what we should want, what’s attractive. And this starts from the day we’re born and doesn’t stop. It’s beneficial for your well-being to stop and give your mind and body a break from the constant chatter once in a while so you can get in tune with your inner voice and reconnect with that badass soul of yours.
Our personalities are constantly changing due to internal and external influences but when was the last time you checked in with yourself to become aware of how you’ve changed? The best way to do this is to spend time alone, free from distractions and external forces and messages. You might be surprised at what you learn and notice.
You connect with who you really are
One of my favorite meditations I listened to almost every day during the worst of my condition was one track from Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health guided meditation series. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s struggling with a difficult illness or is unhappy about their weight or body and wants to get to a better place (no, I don’t earn commission from this or anything, just a fan!). In the opening, Oprah (who for some reason is a part of this..?) says:
“How many times do you become overwhelmed by external messages that tell you you’ve got to improve, you need to be more than you already are? Every moment is offering each of us a fresh opportunity to see ourselves as we really are. To see ourselves as sacred, created by something more powerful than we could ever know.”
In order to take these moments of opportunity she’s talking about, we often need to get away from the distractions and external influences. We need to give ourselves the time and space to truly see ourselves as we really are. And, no, I don’t think this happens as some sort of epiphany or overnight moment when we escape alone into nature for a few days. It’s a process that we are better able to grab hold of with practice and more alone time.
Related Post: What’s Blocking Your Happiness: Self-Awareness
You break away from patterns and bad habits
When you spend time alone you’re able to get out of the routine of every day life. Most of the time we’re running on auto-pilot. We live a majority of our days within the same routine, wherein, habits and patterns form that we may not even realize, causing us to merely exist as opposed to live, in control of our lives. By taking a week or a few days alone, you break the routine and can reflect back on your every day habits and patterns that you may or may not like. You can see them from a new perspective and decide what is beneficial and what isn’t.
In addition to the physical habits, we may also be stuck in negative or destructive thought patterns. You might not even realize it day-to-day but you could be telling yourself that you hate the way you look, your body isn’t working properly, you don’t like how your nose looks – blah blah blah. We all have these types of thoughts but you might not know how pervasive they are until you step out of your routine for a while. When we spend time alone in nature we are better able to recognize these physical and mental patterns and break free from them.
You get happier
I’ve learned a lot about the science of happiness in the last couple of months and I believe it comes from three different places. The first is from spaciousness in the mind. This is something I learned from Andy Puddicombe, the founder and the voice of the mindfulness app, Headspace.
Meditation is essentially a tool we can use to create more space in the mind. It’s used to give our minds a break. Think about the last time you stopped for a few minutes to quiet your thoughts and let your mind rest. No phone, computer, no talking to a friend, no flipping through a magazine or people watching, no daydreaming. If you don’t meditate then you probably don’t remember the last time you did this. But it’s essential for our minds to give them a rest every so often from the barrage of life that comes our way. We rest our muscles when we work out, and we are constantly working out our minds -don’t you think they need a rest too?
By meditating we are literally creating space in our minds, free from all the thoughts and stimuli. This allows us to think more clearly, feel more at ease, relaxed, calm, and you guessed it, happy. When we spend time alone, away from everyone, technology, media and other distractions, we give our minds the space and rest they need. We’re also probably going to get into meditative states throughout the day since we have nothing going on to distract us. Meditation was an important part of my week alone and it made it easier for me to connect with myself and learn some new things about yours truly.
The second factor in happiness is being in alignment with our true selves, something I learned from one of my new favorite bloggers and authors on the subject of happiness and success, Benjamin Hardy (his blog is awesome, you should all subscribe!). This means that our every day actions reflect our ultimate vision and that we are on the right path in life.
I feel like this begs the question “Well, how do we know if we’re on the right path in life?” And I feel I should give the answer my moms gave me when once-upon-a-time I asked them “How do you know when you’ve found the one?” They said “When you know, you know.” Ugh, I thought that was such a BS answer. That’s not an answer at all! It wasn’t until I met Matt that I understood why they had to say that – because it’s true. You really don’t know, until you know. I think this holds true for finding your “right path.” You’ll know when you’re on it. Your only job then is to stay on it and get back on when you stray.
“True peace comes from living a life in alignment with one’s inspired vision. This peace comes from orienting our hearts in such a way that external factors (people, norms, events) no longer dictate the direction of our internal path.” -Benjamin Hardy, Slipstream Time Hacking: How to Cheat Time, Live More, And Enhance Happiness
By spending time alone we’re able to better connect with our true self and inner guide. Often we find ourselves living one life, the one that’s expected of us or the life of least resistance, but there’s an unfulfilled life within us that we wish we were on, our true self’s life. As soon as I got back from my trip I started this blog and it felt right. I made choices and decisions that I never thought I would make after coming home from my time alone.
But don’t get too caught up with finding your “right path.” Just continue to explore and take action every day – you’ll find alignment with your true self along the way. I don’t believe we have just one “right path” so don’t feel like you need to wait until the right moment or time to come along – that won’t get you anywhere!
The last factor in happiness is choosing happiness in the present moment. True, lasting happiness can’t come from external things like wealth or success, it comes from being at peace with the present, the now. Though obviously it’s much easier to be at peace with the present when you’re at a place in life that you enjoy which is why I think the other 2 factors are essential. This last factor is most important though because without being at peace with the present and having a healthy state of mind we’ll never be truly happy, even if we’re finding success in everyday life. Success and wealth often bring fleeting moments of happiness but what we want is long term, sustained happiness, right?
When we spend time alone we’re able to focus on the present moment much easier. There are no distractions or people pulling us into the past memories or future plans. We can focus on where we are presently and enjoy each moment in peace and quiet, remembering that this moment, the now, is all we really ever have and being thankful for it.
I want to end with a quote from Deepak Chopra that basically sums up what I’m trying to say here. And to give you further proof that I’m not some crazy person with wacky ideas:
“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.”
OK, so who’s ready for their solo retreat now? Have you been on one before? What did you think or experience? Sound off in the comments!