08 February 2012

Step 7: Spend More Time Alone

A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.  

"All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Blaise Pascal

Spending time alone has never been hard for me. I enjoy solitude and quiet. I love being by myself. But only in the past few years did the notion of constructive, creative solitude came to my mind.

Being able to spend hours by myself in the forest, or wandering at the beach, listening how the sea breathes has taught me to trust myself more, to listen to my inner voice more, to find my center and to elevate my thoughts to a level I never before fathomed.

Today I want to make sure you will do your best to spend more time by yourself.

Photo: kanelstrand

Why spending time alone is important
Undoubtedly, modern life is stressful in any given point of the world. While location plays a significant role in the level of stress you might experience on a daily basis, one thing is true - there is not much difference. Whether you live in New York City (population 8 million) or Oslo (population 600,000), you are as badly hooked on gadgets and keeping up with your neighbors, you shop in the similar retail chains, you read the same news and you watch the same ads again and again (except if you are brave enough like Julia). 

Has it occurred to you that a way to counteract is to free your mind? Decluttering and simplifying does exactly that - the whole challenge was designed to inspire you and pinpoint possibilities that you might have never heard of, or you might have considered but never got round to putting to action.

Spending time alone is one of the best ways to de-stress and take a moment to hear your heart. Consider it private time, a special moment in the day for you to recharge. While some people like me enjoy their alone time,  others feel uncomfortable in the quiet. If you are one of them, I challenge you to break the spell today. Because if you are unable to enjoy your own company, then no one else will ever be.

Photo: kanelstrand
How to free time to enjoy your company
Freeing up time to spend in peace and quiet with yourself wouldn't mean you are irresponsible, and you will not be letting anyone down but you need to implement some of the previous steps of our simplifying journey. If you do schedule, organize your home, craft and spend more time with your loved ones you will undoubtedly find time to spend with yourself too.

If you are unexperienced with spending time alone, I recommend you to schedule 30 minutes a day in which you will be by yourself. Those 30 minutes exclude:
  • watching TV,
  • listening to the radio,
  • browsing the web,
  • reading,
  • or crafting. 
You need to resist the urge of putting yourself to use or achieving something. In this exigent, demanding world, where 90% of what you do is adhering with someone else's needs, views and rules, you do deserve 30 minutes of your day, don't you think?

To make time for yourself you might want to consider reducing time spent on other activities at least for a month, until you get a nice feel of what it is to be with yourself. This might mean that you are going to get stricter with the time you spend on the Internet, or in front of the TV, or in your friends' company. You might have to give up pointless chatting, or reading the news. You might want to reevaluate the time you spend doing your chores. Surely you can find a way to reduce it. If you are not sure what to begin with you might want to check Leo Babauta's 15 ways to create an hour a day of extra time for solitude.

Photo: kanelstrand

What to do when you are alone
Instead of giving you advice on this one I would like to share what I do when I am alone.

I go out in Nature.

I spend at least an hour a day outside and since we live in the forest and at the beach, I have the chance to immediately dip myself into the bliss of raw nature. Depending on the season I take a different route but I always have my camera with me.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to do that too. Take a camera with you on your walks. It doesn't matter how good a photographer you are, this exercise doesn't have anything to do with judging your abilities. On the contrary, my aim is to help you learn more about yourself.

With a camera in hand your mind is alert to the beauty of nature around you. Whether you see it through your eyes or through the lens you become one with it. With time you will learn to respect and follow its moves. What does this have to do with your being alone? Everything! Nature is the teacher that can help you listen and accept. It can train your senses and perceptions.

Isn't it impressive that Henry David Thoreau phrased my own thoughts 158 years ago?:
"... I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again."

Preparing for this post I decided to go for a walk in the snowy woods. I chose the time right before sunset. At this time of the year the sunset is a shy thing. It is done and over with in less than 30 minutes. 

Photo: kanelstrand

While contemplating a gentle milky violet sky above a quiet and still light blue sea, behind my back the fiery sun is touching the low tops of the hills,making their outlines golden and the sky burning. I wonder how these completely opposite colors can exist at the same moment in the same sky. The beach on the violet side is humbly quiet while the one still lit by the late orange sun is alive with quiet footsteps of people just gone by.

Dry brown ferns are sticking out above the snow, curled and crumpled, round patches of ice are floating along their usual southward route, like a flock of thick graceful elephants. I am quiet. I often stop to listen to the sounds around me: the drops of melting snow, the squeaking ice in the sea, the cracking of branches. No birds are to be heard at this time of day but I know what it is having them around, in broad daylight. I wouldn't give that sound show for any TV program in the world.

I often take my camera out. I want to keep all these visual memories - moments that I can share later with you; that I can get back to and relive; that can help me remember my thoughts, recall the smells. I sometimes lie down on the ground. Like when I was taking photos of the mushrooms last autumn. The camera provokes me to change my point of view. And while I do that on the outside, the change happens inside too.

Once I have become one with nature miracles start happening; small but important miracles like getting the chance to see a family of swans floating soundlessly between the ice circles. And then another one, with a black swan at the end. Such close encounters are only possible when you are in peace with yourself, when you are calm. I am sure you know what I mean.

You can do this
Rearrange your day today and make sure you leave 30 minutes for yourself. You may choose to stay quietly at home, or take a walk but do stay alone. Don't press yourself to think of anything. Just be. Look around, look at yourself. No pressure, no planning, no scheduling. Just simple existence for 30 minutes.

Share your experience: Do you regularly spend time alone without doing anything? Did you try this today? What was the feeling? Do you think you can challenge yourself and stick to that routine for a month?

See also:
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People 
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism 
Step 13: Declutter Your Life 
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

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