I truly enjoy a well constructed how-to list, so at the end of this year I offer one on the subject I know best.
How to spend an extra-ordinary amount of time alone.
- Know thyself. My oldest tattoo is from almost twenty years ago so when people ask about or admire it, I have to remind myself what they are noticing. It is as much a part of me as my moles and freckles, kneecaps and elbows. We do learn about ourselves when we spend time alone; but to endeavor on multiple days without companionship or contact, a person should have attempted it in smaller doses prior to taking the deep dive. You should already know what your mind will conjure at different hours – in sunshine or moonshine – because by day four it will not be what you expected.
- Go with the flow. People often feel the need to share epiphanies or to posit questions, which can interrupt the answers that will surface if waited out. The people we love act as lines of longitude and latitude in that they help us to place ourselves, to anchor what we are thinking as something from the past or some new terrain. Extended time alone can lead a person to feel unmoored, vulnerable to the tide of time. That is why the first step is to know thyself because that one must know they have the strength the paddle back to shore if the wind stops blowing.
- You are not a monk. I do not practice any form of ascetic depth in my time alone. I do not set out to complete a cleanse or abstain from food, I do not have a meditation practice and I do not create artificial constraints. I don’t turn off my phone or wifi, I don’t send out a vacation hold via email, I allow myself entertainment. But my quest is not for spiritual awakening, I do not aim to float into higher levels of consciousness. My practice is more a tending to my inner garden – to check that each root is well covered and fertilized with nutritious soil. If you are a person who wants to fly, to feel untethered, to stand nude under a waterfall – that intentionality will structure your time alone.
- Clean. Have things that need cleaning, sorting, rearranging and removing. Your hands will want ways to stay busy. Cleaning forces the hands to do repetitive actions that don’t require any complex thoughts. This way your mind reconnects to old goals or dreams. If you accomplish nothing else during your isolation you will have a cleaner environment. If the outside world demands some form of accounting for your time away, cleaning is a socially acceptable response.
- Stay (relatively) sober. Extended time alone brings you to a place of equilibrium. Outside stimulation can distort the kind of boring tranquility offered in this practice. Envision a lake fed by a natural spring – just tiny bubbles and ripples at odd times crossing the surface. This is not about making waves or surfing waves.
- Be loved. It is critical that self-imposed isolation is not in reaction to other emotional stimuli. It can be dangerous if done to cope with depression or mania. Your own mind can be a dangerous place haunted by unresolved pasts or disappointing futures. It is critical to know that you are loved before this endeavor. It is also absolutely necessary that those loved ones know that you love them. If you are going to ignore phone calls, not post to social media, limit interactions, you do not want any of it to be interpreted as a turning away from a specific person. This is why it can be helpful to have attempted smaller spurts of time alone before this extended session. It has to be something expected and understood by those you love. And when you finally do come out of isolation, you will want to know there are people excited to see you.
Footnotes: a. This is not an escape, in fact if done correctly it forces a reckoning with the boring reality of a life. b. Have a dog. c. Send the kids to camp or the grandparents. d. Money – it limits everything including making time to be alone. e. Extended time is a subjective concept, for the purposes of this list the idea is spending five or more days alone. f. A person may tip into being a recluse if this practice continues for months and/or is repeated more than ten times a year.