Today I have the day to myself – no one else, just me in the house with my cat. For me, it is pure bliss. After the sometimes chaotic nature of the holiday season spent in constant company, whether that is with beloved family or friends, a little downtime is a blessing. I love these moments, when I am free to do as I choose, when the house is quiet and no one needs anything. I can write or listen to music, meditate without extraneous noise, or simply just sit in the conservatory with a cup of tea and enjoy the silence and the season. After busy times, I crave solitude.
In today’s society, however, I am seeing more and more evidence that people do not want to spend time with themselves. There are constant distractions everywhere, the worst culprit being mobile phones. Not only are they being used to call or text people constantly, but now people can tweet, check their facebook or email and never spend a moment without their “friends”. I remember about six months ago going to my local pub and sitting at the bar, chatting to the bar staff. Other locals were around me sharing conversation, but once the bartender had disappeared they all lowered their heads and were on their phones, thumbs hammering away. I have gone out to dinner on numerous occasions where I see other couples sitting across from each other not talking to each other but on their phones. It makes me so sad that people do not want to be together physically when they are given the precious opportunity. What I find perhaps even more distressing is the fact that people don’t know how to be alone either.
In a supermarket queue, no one can just stand there anymore and wait in line, either simply being and standing, or making eye contact with others, offering a smile, perhaps some comment on the weather. I respect it when people don’t want to talk to strangers – I can feel annoyed when people want my attention and I don’t want to give it to them at that particular moment. It can feel intrusive. Men who expect you to flirt back, for instance. But I digress – surrounded by real people in the supermarket queue, people would rather look to a tiny screen that acknowledge those around them, or perhaps even succumb to their own thoughts for the barest instant.
I know that I am assuming much here – I can’t know what really goes on in other people’s heads. But I think it is a fair assumption to make. Being alone is scary for a lot of people, especially if they’re not used to it. What worries me is that a whole generation of human beings is living without the blessing of time spent by and with themselves. They will never experience that exquisite silence when the gadgets are turned off. They will never know their own thoughts, being constantly distracted by the thoughts of others. They might never truly know themselves.
Time spent alone is precious time to look within, to check on our self and see if everything is okay. Not enough time is spent doing this, in my opinion. Giving this gift of attention to our selves, we can see where we are simply reacting to events, instead of acting with intention. It gives us a chance to be compassionate with our selves, and thereby allowing us to be more compassionate with others. We check in on others all the time with social media – what I suggest is that we check in with ourselves as well.
Mindfulness and meditation are two great ways to check in with the self, to see how you are doing at this particular moment in time. Breathing in, being aware of the breath, you can do this anywhere – even in the supermarket queue. Simply saying “breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in, breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out” in your mind as you breathe gives you a moment in time that is all your own. I like to do this regularly, and also to see where I am holding tension in my body. Often I will find that my right shoulder is raised, and I can make a conscious effort to relax my muscles, giving them a rest as well as my mind. I am unconsciously tensing, perhaps protectively with my dominant arm against some unperceived threat. When I am aware of this, I see that there is no threat, and can relax and enjoy the moment better.
In meditation, simply stopping is a brilliant way to get back in touch with your self. Sitting on a cushion, perhaps some incense burning as an offering, simply spend time with your self and your thoughts. See the thoughts in your mind as they arise, but do not attach to them – let them go. See and discover how crazily the mind works, how hurried and fast thoughts arise. Just as quickly as they come, let them go, and slowly, with time and with effort, with a little discipline, the thoughts will begin to settle like mud in a pond, eventually allowing clear insight into the depths. It doesn’t happen all at once, and takes dedication, but it is so worth it.
Spend some time with yourself today, even if it only for two minutes. Breathe, stand outside after work and smell the night air. Take a candlelit bath and really feel the water surround you, relaxing your body and noticing where there may be tension. Sit at your meal and savour each and every bite, really paying attention to what it is that you are putting in your mouth. Lying down to sleep, do a full body sweep with your mind to feel areas of tension, relaxing the muscles one by one.
And for the love of your self, turn your phone off. x
Thanks for sharing this. It strikes me that there’s a link between our willingness to spend time with ourselves and our ability to make genuine connections with others. Your example of people in a supermarket queue being more comfortable with their phones than with each other points to this. We might tell ourselves that we’re connecting online, when perhaps all we’re doing is distracting ourselves from the lack of connection we feel in real life? As I was crowded onto the underground in London this morning, I thought a late new year’s resolution for myself might be to do what I feel I should do – smile, talk, make connections. “Be the change” and all that…
That’s beautiful, Andy! x
Without the noise, we might have time to think about things, and that would be dangerous because we might find we don’t like what’s going on, inside us, outside of us, and that would be awful because then we might feel obliged to do something, and then things would change and that would be really scary… bread and circuses, just as it has always been.