Why Making Time For A Moment Alone Can Help Us Live Better Lives
By Hannah Smith, Legends Report Writer
"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake"
– Henry David Thoreau.
I feel that there aren’t many moments in our lives where we feel like we are truly taking a pause from the world around us and the frantic nature of life. Because we are so busy we seem to reduce these moments of complete stillness until they are interchangeable with our general periods of rest, the times we spend sleeping and undergoing hobbies or recreation, what we view as downtime. However, these aren’t truly moments where we are able to stop our lives for a brief period of time. Sleep and rest are times where we physically and mentally re-energise, they are important practises that we must undergo in order to live healthy lives. But these acts must not be confused with genuine moments of complete stasis, where we are able to forget about everything, our worries, our responsibilities, even our own identities, for a little while.
It sounds counter-productive in a sense, I know: what is the benefit of taking time to completely forget about all of the countless things that make up our life, our existence? Wouldn’t that seem somehow like we would not be tackling our issues head-on like we were trying to ignore them?
I have found, on the contrary, how important it is to take these moments of stillness. What I mean by a moment of stillness is an action that enables you to have a period of time when you are able to be alone and aware of your mind; where you have the time to think about yourself and what you truly want from your life; where you can think about your relationships and the positive benefits that they have on you and vice versa for you on them. Although you may physically be alone with your thoughts, it would be anything other than just being alone. Having these moments of stillness are opportunities to reach inside yourself and learn from what you find, which in turn will enable you to reach out again, to find meaningful relationships with others and make the impact that you want on the world around you.
"Life is noisy and busy. Silence is a resource." – Holley Gerth, author.
I would like to discuss the act of being still and alone, and taking the time to truly listen to your own mind and know what you want, outside of the busy nature of life. With everything we have access to nowadays, as empowering as it can be, we can get carried away with the fast pace of it all, the countless tasks and goals that we set for ourselves. Sometimes we can get so caught up in this that we lose where we are going, and the reason that we wanted any of it to begin with. I wanted to focus on why we should take the time out of our busy lives to be alone and engage with our thoughts, and in what ways we can do it.
I personally think that a large part of taking a moment to be alone with your thoughts is just that: being alone. This is because, for me, the whole point of taking this action is to listen to your own mind and nobody else's. I like to think of this as ‘meaningful isolation’, as it is an opportunity to look inwards without any outside influence.
I know it is easy to view this idea as an excuse to cut oneself from the world, and without a mindful approach, it can become that. But for many, having this time alone is essential in order to make sure we are still aligning with our own paths in life. I personally am very susceptible to the world around me, and although I value the relationships I make with people I can often begin to ignore my own emotional needs in order to prioritise those of others. I know a lot of people like this too, many people who gain happiness from helping others can sometimes lean too heavily on an identity of being a support to others. A lot of people also can fall into negative habits of looking to gain some sort of approval from others, such as friends, family members and even in professional environments, which often leads to insecurity and low-self esteem. We are all here to support one another but we do not exist to serve the happiness of somebody else. Only by taking some short time to separate myself from others do I have the chance to listen to myself and only myself, to realign with who I am as a person and what I want from my life.
There was a philosopher and writer who I feel embodies the idea of meaningful isolation. His name is Henry David Thoreau, and he is most remembered for his personal reflection crafted into the book ‘Walden’, a piece of literature relating to two years where he lived alone in the woods and lived off the land. I found ‘Walden’ very powerful when I read it because although Mr Thoreau mentions the importance of this period of personal isolation, he never seems to be cut off from the world around him. Instead, he uses his time away from society to understand the true aspects of life that are necessary to him. Although we do not have to spend two years living in the woods to dedicate time to our own growth, I think that we can resonate with Thoreau’s insistence that by spending time alone to listen to ourselves we can improve our lives ten-fold:
"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour."– Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau emphasises the importance of time alone and although he takes it to extreme measures of complete self-sufficiency in the woods, I find his intentions inspiring. Thoreau insists on the importance of time alone in terms of how it can improve our relationships with others, the world around us and ourselves. He describes meaningful isolated periods as times where we can categorise our worries and responsibilities to understand what is truly essential to our lives and what isn’t. In ‘Walden’ he preaches a life of simplicity, and although it may not be as easy to keep our worries to a minimum in today’s fast-paced world, it is an important sentiment to remember. I know from experience that by spending some time just thinking to myself in a place of seclusion, I have cleared a lot of my thoughts away and realised what is truly important for me to improve my life and wellbeing.
"Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails." – Henry David Thoreau
That is not to say that Thoreau was preaching that we should live an existence solely in isolation. In fact, in ‘Walden’ he relates an experience of quite the opposite. Whilst living in the woods he was more or less removed from the local populace but writes of many encounters he has with people who visit the lake and come across his home. What is notable from how he writes about these visits is that they seem to be cherished and meaningful experiences that he has shared with people from all walks of life.
"What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another." – Henry David Thoreau
Rather than preferring solely a life of solitude over that of having company, Thoreau uses his time in solitary to understand how to forge meaningful relationships with others. I find I really resonate with this as I feel like in the present day, especially in young people under lots of pressure, we do not always know how to make meaningful and lasting relationships. By looking at Thoreau’s engagement with solitude and how it helped him align himself with his mind, I have learnt that it is not always shameful to be without company. I have found confidence in myself after periods of self-reflection to know how to make new relationships that mean something, what I want to offer others and what I deserve to have back from them. Solitude, in small and mindful measures, can have a very positive impact on our minds.
Put Yourself Physically Where You Want to Be Mentally
It can be a daunting experience, to spend time with just yourself and nothing else. We currently live in an age where distraction is so easily found, we only have to look down at a phone screen or turn on a TV in order to turn our brains off and find safety in a world that isn’t our own. For me personally, having these distractions is too off-putting for me if I am trying to engage with myself and have a moment of stillness, so I try to find ways of putting my physical body in a place of clarity so that I can focus on my inner self.
There are many ways that we can place ourselves physically into a space that will aid our mental journeys. As mentioned above when I discussed Thoreau, detracting into nature can be a good way of putting yourself into a position where you are able to focus on yourself. If you are able to, it is a good method to find a quiet and secluded spot amongst your local wildlife where you can gain the benefits of feeling close to the natural world. Thoreau mentions how we can use the quietness and intimacy of nature to feel close to our own minds, we are all a part of nature (though sometimes as humans we do not act like it).
"I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself." – Henry David Thoreau
I found it much easier to let my worries and my overactive mind float away (literally) when I tried sensory deprivation therapy, or float therapy. For anybody who may not have heard of this, float therapy is where you spend an hour inside a special pod that is designed to give you the closest experience to complete weightlessness. The water you’re in is loaded with special Epsom salt to make you bob like a cork in the Dead Sea. It is also heated to the average temperature of our skin, as is the air around you, making you feel like there is nothing there like you are literally floating. The pod is also designed to keep external noise to a minimum and to put you in complete darkness.
Float therapy can be nerve-wracking to some and it is not for everybody. But my time floating has made me realise that it gives you an experience of complete separation from physical life. When you are inside a float pod you can feel a manner of physical detachment and suddenly everything else seems so far away, so manageable.
"The sensory deprivation chamber is the most important tool I have ever used for developing my mind, for thinking, for evolving." – Joe Rogan
One of my greatest personal struggles throughout my life has been learning how to manage my worries. It is hard to maintain a peaceful and happy mind when it is constantly at war with itself, and I often find myself spending countless time and energy worrying about menial things; I know these things don’t really matter, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about them. Before I tried a session in the floatation tank for the first time I was excited, but also concerned that I would have nothing to physically distract me from my mind and whatever worry it was choosing to focus on today. On the contrary, I found the complete lack of physical stimuli to be very beneficial in compartmentalising my worries. I found that when I was inside the floatation tank I could let the worries literally float away. I was present in that moment of weightlessness, and I was able to let go of these little aspects of my anxiety and focus on a deeper sense of awareness and peace. I knew that my worries were still there but I was able to put them into perspective.
The reason I brought up my experience in a floatation tank is because it is an extreme example of taking a moment to completely be present in yourself and your reality. Meditation and other forms of mindfulness achieve this too, but flotation is a practice where you physically remove yourself from the outside world and shut away for an hour of searching within your own mind. You do not need to try floatation to have this experience, but it is a good catalyst to achieve it.
Find Within Yourself What You Want to Give to the World
It is so easy to get lost in the vastness of the world around us and what is happening to our planet and its people; it is understandable why we become so intertwined in the lives of others and the relationships that we have with people. But when we begin to define ourselves through our relationships, our careers, hobbies and statuses, we lose a sense of who we are and what we really want.
After reading about the wisdom of Thoreau and an understanding of the values we can take from short intervals away from our day to day lives I think I will be making more effort to take this isolated action. I am not saying that we should prioritise being alone for self-reflection over our relationships with our jobs, loved ones, hobbies or anything else. I have made the mistake in the past of valuing time alone for introspection to the point that I began to cut off ties with other people. What I want to emphasise is that a quiet moment to ourselves to truly have some time away from life can help us live it to a fuller extent. Just as we need sleep to recharge our bodies and well-being practise to heal our mental health, I personally believe that taking the time to myself to look inwards and think about who I am and who I want is great for my sense of self and self-esteem.
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