We enter this world alone and leave the same way. Keep calm, amigo. It’s not such a bad thing. Even the most outgoing people spend a majority of their time alone. So let’s face facts. To master life, we need to master the art of being alone.
I'm a social being and enjoy the company of others and being part of a team in work and at play. But I also relish my time alone. Only on rare occasions have I ever been bored. Ever since I was a little boy, I found ways of entertaining myself. My earliest recollections are staring up at a colorful mobile hanging over my crib. According to my mother, I’d stare at it for hours at a time. In fact, because I was so quiet she often checked in just to see if I was alive. And it’s been that way ever since. Nature, music, a ball, a good book, a bike, and now a long run have been faithful companions for me, even when my friends, family, and colleagues are nowhere around. I firmly believe that learning how to spend time alone provides us with a wonderful education in how to live with yourself.
In today’s fast-paced culture and all of its connectivity, getting off the grid even for a few hours is tough. But making the time to get together with just ourselves is critical to getting the most out of life.
Here is what I’ve learned about mastering the art of being alone and its benefits. I hope this helps you as much as learning to be alone has helped me.
1. Disconnect, clear your mind, become one with your thoughts. When I was single, the first thing I’d do when I came home was flick on the television, radio, or my stereo system. I could not bear the sound of my own thoughts. Then it was the Internet and my phone, and you know how that goes. Before you know it you are taking your iPhone to bed. The Super Bowl, NBA All-star game and trading deadline, the Grammy’s, Kanye, the election, and our impending economic collapse are the tip of media’s toxic spear aimed at your consciousness. If you keep yourself tethered to electronic and social media, you’ll forget who you are and become depressed and sick. Soon you’ll start buying the meds they sell on television. That’s a downward spiral, amigos.
Fortunately, a few years ago my wife took notice of my behavior and asked, “Hey, what’s with all the noise around here?” She’s a yogi and prefers peace and quiet to all of the barking on WFAN. Suddenly a light bulb flipped on inside my head and I became mindful of not only this compulsive behavior but of my thoughts also. And although I still enjoy getting my sports news while showering, I assure you that the simple act of disconnecting from your electronic devices and social media will prove to be a major first step in learning how to quiet your mind and thrive during the invaluable time you spend alone with your thoughts.
2. Exercise, focus, solve problems, create. Any time I have two hours to spare, I do my best to figure out a way to get a workout in. If I succeed, I’ll have invested that time wisely because while I am conditioning my body I also have time to get into a focused mental zone where I can sort things out in my mind. I mentally wrote and edited my entire novel, THE GUYS’ GUY’S GUIDE TO LOVE, during a series of long runs. The plot points and character arcs dissembled and then took shape each time I reached a state of being mentally locked while I lumbered down the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore and the running path along the Hudson River Park. It didn’t matter that I usually had music playing through my ear buds. I was so in the moment that nothing could break my concentration. I’ve also broken down complicated business issues after my endorphins kicked in and come up with solutions that worked as well.
3. Meditate to get to know your true self. Learning to mediate has changed the fear of being alone into a gift. The key to meditation is practice, practice, practice and finding that 15- 30 minutes a day to sit alone and simply breathe. Over time, you go deeper and get more benefits from this quiet time. Your attitude changes from scrambling to find time to slow down or making excuses about it to looking forward to the special times you can be alone. If you have trouble meditating on your own, there are myriad of mp3’s you can download that will help you quiet your mind and release all the monkey chatter. My intuition and mental functioning has never been better. In fact I feel I feel that since I began meditating I am using more of my brain than ever before. And studies show that meditation is good for your physical health as well.
4. Read, enhance your creativity, and never feel alone. Whether it is a novel, non-fiction or the info we scour online, reading is a very personal behavior that we indulge in alone. And being alone with our thoughts and the thoughts of others on subjects of interest to us exposes us to new ways of thinking. This does not mean scanning your Facebook feed. That can be toxic. Too much bragging, half-baked opinions, hating and memes can cause anxiety and don’t nurture the mind. I’m referring to going a bit deeper, maybe following a favorite blog or reading an in-depth article on gravitational waves. In any case, when you read, you are alone with your thoughts and if managed mindfully, it’s a healthy practice.
5. Step out into nature, count your blessings, forgive. Another helpful practice when alone is getting outside. And even in a city like New York, you can find yourself alone in the crowd. It can make one feel lonely or it can be a good thing if you are comfortable in your own skin. I personally feel grounded on a crowded avenue as I move mindfully, maybe practicing affirmations or thinking about the good things in my life and the reasons to forgive those who have wronged me. And the moment I step into Central Park, I feel the energy change and slow down. The sights and sounds of nature help me relax and reconnect with myself.
6. Celebrate your independence and oneness. Once you realize you are a divine aspect of the Creator; you can find solace in your individuality as well as your connection with everyone. And when you begin to see yourself and your world in those terms, you become calmer, less anxious, and a more self-assured individual. Go inside, discover your possibilities and then explore the ways to get it done. Being alone can be a great blessing once you get comfortable with who you are and your place in the world.
So if you want to learn more about who you really are, enhance your confidence and creativity, and improve your physical and mental health, find a few minutes each day just for yourself and use it to your advantage. The benefits are many and it costs nothing. It’s just you spending time with yourself, and loving it.
This week’s GUY’S GUYS OF THE WEEK are all the spiritual men and women throughout history who learned how to be alone, how to be quiet, and how to live a better life from the inside out. You can be one of them. Just give it a try.