It's a gift, not a deprivation
2 minute read
If you’re dreading the coming weeks and maybe months of social isolation, take heart. Finding solitude in a busy world is as hard to find as a needle in a haystack, yet millions of us are about to experience it whether we like it or not. Far from being a deprivation, it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore what solitude has to offer. And it’s a lot.
Nine years ago, I wrote a book for National Geographic about choosing to travel solo. On my own, I tackled many crazy adventures and obviously lived to tell about them. As much fun as I had scaring myself half to death on a regular basis, I came to deeply appreciate the time to myself. Solitude gifted me the one thing I could never seem to find time for: introspection.
Introspection, like solitude, must be practiced alone, so it’s perfect for the imposed stay-at-home order you're hopefully obeying. Introspection – thinking deeply about yourself and your circumstances – will help you identify what you want and -- equally important -- what you don’t want in your life. But it can only happen in solitude. So take time now, before the pandemic is over and life gets back to a new normal, to figure out how you want to proceed on your life’s journey. Here are some tips for using your semi-isolation to start charting your course.
If you’re not sure what you should be thinking about, start with the end rather than the beginning. Where and what do you hope to be in a year, ten years? Twenty years from now what do you want to look back on and be proud of? Think past the obvious of being a good spouse, partner, parent, employee, volunteer, etc. What do you really desire for yourself? If it’s to change your little corner of the world, what will that look like? If it’s to look back and say you finally jumped out of an airplane, how will you get there?
Survey the Landscape
What obstacles are blocking your dream and your progress? What fears have convinced you that you can’t do what you dream of doing? Now the hard part – where did those fears come from? Chances are you were pretty brave as a kid and felt invincible, yet as you got older you became more cautious. Why? What scripts – I’m too old, I’m too scared, I’m too fat – do you need to rip up to get past the place where you’re stuck?
Once you have your list and your vision, distill it down to one or two things that are most important and take those thoughts with you on your walks, your drives and into your quiet time. Here’s an example: if you say you want more freedom, you need to spend time deeply thinking about what that means. Is it freedom from obligation? From work? From toxic relationships? Even when you think you’ve got the answer, keep thinking about it some more. Dig deeper. The closer you get, the more energized you’ll feel. You’ll know when the full and genuine answer comes. It is such a feeling of revelation and release, there will be no denying its truth.
This is not a process you can rush. It might take months or possibly years to discover what you’re looking for, but it sure won’t happen on its own. Take the steps listed here and don’t interfere with the energy of the process by imposing deadlines on it or yourself. Let it all unravel in its own time. Be still in your mind and notice – don’t judge – what thoughts or impressions want to make themselves known to you. And don’t try to do two things at once. This is important because we’re talking about you and your future. Listening to music, multi-tasking, giving in to distractions…these all conspire to obscure your personal truth because they block you from hearing your own inner voice.
Ten years of solo travel changed my life. Not the travel itself but the time alone and the resulting gift of introspection. At the end of everything, I know I’ll look back with no regrets save one: I wish I’d started sooner. Take the opportunity right now during this unprecedented world-wide shut-down to challenge yourself to do things you never thought you could do. Think deeply about your future in that place where you tell the truth. Face your fears. Get back on the horse, or whatever it is you’ve fallen off of. Pull that audacious dream that’s been buried up into the light of day. Make a commitment to nourish it until it grows into the spectacular thing that will transform you and your life. Wherever that dream resides now, solitude and introspection will help you find it. And once this pandemic is over, you’ll have what very few people have: clarity.
What about you? How are you making the most of your solitude and social distancing?