Preparing for solitude
So, in part 2 of the story of my solitude period, I thought it would be useful to state some of the less obvious aspects to get ready for ‘blast off’.
Unfortunately, very few of us can just ‘go’ into solitude – albeit briefly – without some preparation. We have other people and commitments to consider before we are able to arrange quality alone time. I had arranged this time nearly 6 months ago, so slowly I stated to prepare myself from Easter onwards with packing my bags. But, this is just a superficial part of preparation - there is a lot more to do.
So, how did I get ready to go into solitude?
Readying my mind
At first, the notion of being all alone can make you feel a little nervous and uncomfortable. If so, take a moment to ask yourself why this is. It’s helpful to think through the issues you have with being in your own company before you try to create a time of solitude. But don’t let these doubts stop you from going ahead with your plans – you can use your alone time to work through these issues.
For me, over time alone, you will most certainly bring up emotions and feelings about who you really are, and what you have done. Don't be afraid of this, it is a good thing, trust me! These emotions will certainly come up in reflection and meditation, as well as just walking in the day or preparing food in the evening. The thing is, you will get into a state where you will allow these feelings to come right up into the stark and honest forefront of your thinking, and not discarded as being too painful or ‘silly’ to think about.
When most people think of solitude, they automatically imagine the bitter pain of loneliness. To many, the concept of ‘aloneness’ evokes our deepest fears of abandonment and a lack of belonging. It can also be seen as ‘boring’.
Loneliness, however, is not simply a case of being alone – many people can be surrounded by crowds of people and still feel lonely. I think that loneliness is the belief that no one cares about what happens to us.
It is the distressing realisation that we lack close and meaningful contact with others which, in turn, produces feelings of being isolated from them.
It is this basic need to avoid being lonely that pushes us to create countless connections around ourselves. Our computers and cell phones reassure us by providing the tools to stay constantly in touch with each other. Yet these technological props only distract us from listening to our internal voice and increasing our sense of self awareness.
This obsession with staying connected to the outside means we are forgetting how to get in contact with our inner selves. I thought that I would not be worried by loneliness, but was unpleasantly surprised halfway through the 40 days, with feelings of acute loneliness and sadness. Lonely, chiefly because I missed Buffy and my children - it hurt my heart a lot, and I stumbled around pretty morose I have to say. Happily for me, these feelings washed away after about 48 hours and did not return.
Deciding your time
Hopefully you already have some ‘me time’ built into your life, even if it’s just for a few hours every so often. The exact length of time you need really depends on your own situation, but it’s important to organize a dedicated period rather than just hoping you can grab a few hours here and there. I find that if I leave things as a 'wish I could do' scenario, the chances are that something will blindside me and I get distracted.
As for how long is necessary, the more quality time you can set aside the better, though even just 1 hour is better than nothing at all. The crucial factor is how you spend your time in solitude, not the duration of minutes, hours and days.
So, what is a reasonable period? I think that everyone will have his or her own feelings on this. All I know is that I found that it has taken me up to 7 days to actually ‘settle’ in, so for me it would always have to be at least a week or more. The longer the period, then definitely the more insights will be offered to you.
Choosing your location
To minimise everyday distractions, it is useful – where possible – to get away from your usual living environment. Alternatively, you might visit your local park or forest. If you do decide to remain at home or in your own garden, you should try to go uninterrupted and undisturbed for a reasonable period. My feeling on this, is ‘get away’ to somewhere you have not been or seen before if at all possible. What matters is that you find somewhere you can experience meaningful 'alone' time. Going to a place with no one else around for miles is for me, helpful, but that might not be necessary for others.
Telling other people
The idea of us wanting to spend some time in solitude can be alarming to the central people in our lives if we suddenly announce our intentions. Partners, for example, can feel hurt and threatened if you declare a need for your own space – even if only for a short while. They may take it personally and wonder what it is they’ve done wrong to drive you away. It helps if you’ve previously discussed each other’s views on what it means to be apart and to do your own thing in the context of your own relationship. I am extremely fortunate in that my wife and family are always hugely supportive of what I want to do, even if it does appear to be somewhat ‘wacky’!
How to spend your time in solitude
Of course, you can simply ‘go with the flow’ and do whatever you want, but you’ll get the most out of your precious moments alone if you have a rough plan of things you want to achieve. For me, the first time I went into solitude, I most certainly had the ingredients of a plan. I was to establish a secure and dry base, and then walk the moor to rediscover places I was walked when I was in the Army many years previous.
On Dartmoor, the plan sought of went according to how I thought it would, except I had not taken into account the effect of being alone really would have on me. I discovered that after a week or so, and two camp moves later, that I was drawn to walking specific paths that were ‘given’ to me during dreamtime. I ended up walking for miles across the moor that I was not familiar with and without a map in rain, sun and at night. I also found that as time went on that I felt the draw that nature had on me and its surrounds.
In this latest solitude period in North Devon, I spent less time walking (although I did walk pretty much every day) and more time meditating and deep reflection. I was also more aware of the weather for trips out overnight or for longer walks, so even though I had no idea what the forecast was, I constantly scanned the horizon and the sky to see what I thought the day might bring. Sometimes I was spot on, sometimes I got it completely wrong! I could in that respect plan what I wanted to do, after I woke up.
On arrival, or as soon as possible, it is right and proper to hold a short ceremony honouring the land and space that you will be occupying as well as introducing yourself. For me, much of what I do now I owe to having attended such ceremonies with friends and my wife. This is what I do, but it is by no means a blueprint.
First of all I will use my compass to ascertain the 4 cardinal directions. I will then face each in turn, starting with the East (where sun will rise) and in turn, open my arms to that direction saying, “I come to you the East, bringer of all that comes from you, and ask for your blessings during my stay”. Repeat this for each direction.
Now I turn my attention to heaven above and earth below. Again with open arms stretched to the heavens, proclaim your desire to the sky and heavens above. Repeat this to the earth (Gaia) below sweeping your arms downwards and upwards to embrace your heart. Something along the lines of “Oh Father Sky and Mother Earth I ask for your blessings during my stay”.
Now we have a ‘circle’ which is your special place to move onto the next part. You can mark out your circle for example with some stones placed at the cardinal points, or indeed construct a mini stone or wooden circle all the way around. It's entirely up to you and the physical space you have to work with.
For me I always like to enter from the East, again from the direction of the rising sun. I will move around my ‘circle’ in a clockwise direction and stop briefly to honour each cardinal point. I will walk the circle 3 times until then I move to the centre point. At the centre of the circle it is good to offer something to the earth from your home – water is often used but it could also be stone or piece of wood to place. Often I have seen sacred water from holy wells or from other parts of the world gifted to the ground in the centre of the circle – again this is a personal choice.
Now I am able to honour others. So I will start off by honouring the ancestors of the land and the spirits that roam the upper and lower kingdoms, the elementals (earth, fire, water and air), the inhabitants of the fairy worlds, every insect, bird and animal of the physical world, the plants and trees and the very ground that we walk on. All of these will be welcomed with something simple like “ I thank you ….for allowing me to share this space with you and feel honoured to be here at this and the places you roam”.
A short time of reflection follows and even a statement of intent might follow. “I am here in this beautiful space to reflect on who I truly am so that I can be more enlightened to the majesty of the world I inhabit”.
Next week, I will be starting my diary descriptions, and promise you will get the full unabridged account - warts and all! Thanks for reading.