I spent a wonderful couple of days by myself, “glamping” in a yurt for my 40th birthday. It was heaven.
I love spending time by myself. I always have. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family, but I am entirely comfortable in my own company for long periods of time. Growing up as a teenager, I didn’t have any close friends nearby – my boyfriend was about 20 miles away, and so I only saw him about every other weekend when not at school. My other school friends were over 60 miles away. After school and weekends then were spent by myself, alone in the woods or wandering the village, immersed in the songs of the place.
Turning 40 gave me the perfect excuse to hole up away from everybody for a couple of days. It was time to be entirely selfish – time to spend solely on me, on thinking about my past, present and future. Looking over the last 40 years, and thinking about where I am now, I am very hopeful and content about the future, whatever it will bring. Looking at myself from a different viewpoint as well helped to confirm my sense of self; I thought about how my family see me, my friends, my colleagues, my peers, my cats, etc. Fully grounding in my sense of self, of knowing who I was, I was then able to let that go.
Sitting vigil at night in front of the campfire, with the stars shining brightly overhead and the fire burning merrily, I was able to let go of the past, be in the present and not worry about the future. I knew who I was, and I was able to let that go as well, to simply be in the moment with the darkness, the owls, the crickets and the night air. It was wholly freeing.
We do not spend enough time alone, in my opinion. Four days without phones, television, radio or internet was lush, with time spreading out before me in a lazy spiral. I ate when hungry and slept when tired, not matter what the time of day was. I was able to allow my thoughts to slowly dissipate in the wind, and I found myself becoming more and more a part of the landscape. I no longer thought about Facebook or the emails that awaited me. I was free.
Of course now I am back, and there are business emails to deal with, blogs to be written and thoughts to be shared with friends and family. But these moments of stillness, when utterly alone I was able to let go into the world has carried with me to an even greater extent than I thought possible.
The thought of going on social media gave me a slightly sinking feeling. I had emails and deadlines to meet. I did not want the television on. But I share my life with others, with my husband and my friends, and I cannot retreat entirely from the world. What I can do, however, is to re-prioritise how my time is spent, both with others and by myself.
The monastic life is all about retreating from the world in order to better engage with it. Time spent alone is finding solace for the soul, slowing down thoughts and finding out what really matters. Put away your phone. Get off the computer. Turn off the television and the radio and simply sit, wherever you are. Be in that space. Let that space get to know you. Go outside, alone, for hours at a time and feel yourself slowing down, thoughts receding until you are simply in the present moment, awake and aware to the world around you.
It was the greatest gift I could ever have received on my birthday.