Before Being With Others, Learn to Be With Yourself

 

If you know me, you'd know that I've always taken a lot of alone time. But for a while I had a hard time knowing when I needed it.

When I didn't take it, I'd feel so frustrated - even angry at the world for demanding so much of me.

You know for sure it's needed when you're traveling alone in a small village and you want even more alone time. That was me in Vietnam several years back. I took off on a motorbike with a bánh mì under the seat, the clothes on my back, and a paper map. My pearly teeth gathered dust as trucks zoomed by me on a one-lane winding mountain road. I was determined, and I drove through treacherous conditions for a couple hours, passing endless, twirling rice fields interwoven with gliding waterways.

For a hundred kilometers I drove - past the colorful tapestries of villages, bountiful land, roly-poly water buffalos and finally up a steep incline to a temple nestled in the mountains.

I entered the pagoda, passed a statue that symbolized mercy, walked through a vast and candlelit cave, and then climbed up a giant rock that stood alone. I sat down and closed my eyes.

I'd arrived - total solitude and reflection here I go...

Instantly I heard rustling and I opened my eyes to a man approaching me - asking me for money. Arrrgh! 

I believe we all need solo time.

Okay, maybe not as much as I did that one time, but we all need it in order to examine what we say, what we do, who we are. 

Being ourselves is about more than speaking and acting spontaneously in public, but our ability to be alone and finally hear ourselves think - knowing who we are and what we're all about..

The one who learns to be with herself, becomes attuned to her inner self and the world. In solitude, the "soundless dialogue becomes audible {thanks Plato}.

 

the Stress Crisis

One of the soundless inner dialogues has to do with stress. When we get stressed - there needs to be something that happens in order to bring our stress hormone {cortisol} levels back to normal. Either we're having a "seize-the-day" heightened state of arousal - which is often linked with a tangible goal OR a free floating, distressed anxiety - which often doesn't have an outlet.  

But if we don't actually run from a tiger, or play out the fight or flight moment - then we're left with higher levels of the stress hormone to deal with {hello road rage}.

Being with ourselves and simple deep breaths is a way to metabolize the stress.

It's a problem when we lack contemplation time, and only engage socially. I love Edgar Allan Poe's description of the man roaming the streets, refusing to be alone. A brooding gloom lurking below his surface, the despair temporary alleviated by throwing himself into the crowd. 

 

Anxiety gone viral

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We all get stressed out in ways that are contagious and counterproductive. In our hyper connected world, most people have trouble sitting quiet for 3 minutes. When not in constant companionship, we're connecting to Facebook, Twitter, dozens of email checks per day and even searching people we barely even know or have no business knowing.

If we don't take solo time to do things like, reflect, contemplate, meditate - our anxiety goes viral. We end up catastrophizing thoughts, acting out our unfelt emotions and...

Anxiety is contagious. 

When we're feeling people's nervousness, it's nearly impossible to not get nervous and feel awkward ourselves.

On my quest for solitude in Vietnam, I'd stop at villages for water and rest. I couldn't help but feel scrutinized for being American - looked at with judgement, even though I had been living in Asia for a year and earning Thai money.

In hindsight, I was very much on guard and they were most likely reacting to my anxiousness. We pick up on other people's anxiety on a visceral level. And we spread our own if we're not aware.

 

Solo Time

I was about to take my victory sigh and pull out my journal when someone approached me - all the way up there!? I remember it showed me how much pent up resentment I'd have for people - anyone - when I wasn't getting what I needed from solo time.

I looked right at him - but didn't really see him - because I was blinded by stress, my own mental anguish coloring the scenario. 

How many of us look but don't really see? 

We may find ourselves driving late to work, becoming stressed out because an older person is crossing the street so slowly. We can be so honed in on our own dilemmas and dreams that we miss the opportunity to help the lady with crutches get the door, or we don't think to smile back at the friendly toddler in line at the grocery store. 

I believe that our capacity to be present with others is equal to our capacity to be present with ourselves. That to be alone is not a withdraw from society, but a precursor to participating in it.

It is a cliché, of course, to say that we cannot love others if we do not first love ourselves, but it's true.

It's a sort of bitter taste for me to remember Vietnam. I wasn't in a good way with myself and so I couldn't consider the people with compassion, curiosity or openness. I was in the harsh vortex of self focus and placing all the blame outwardly. 

I stayed quite a while on the tip top of that temple because I had a lot to work out and think about. When I finally climbed down and to my motorbike for the journey back, I remember noticing warm eye contact and I'm pretty sure everyone was magically nicer.

 
 
 
 
 
In the morning, – solitude; … that nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoting Pythagoras

Meditation

Meditation is a skillful way to be in solitude. Practicing will reduce anxiety and lower stress hormone levels {yes please!}. So, instead of rehashing tragedies from earlier and borrowing later's troubles - practicing presence drops us out of the mental time travel loop. 

This quality time isn't only essential for developing our state of mind - but also a practice that prepares us for a more rewarding social experience. 

If you're reading this and thinking, "I don't really want to look inside myself, especially when I'm anxious - that's just scary!"

You're welcome here - and I see you. I get you. I am you. I want you to know that it's like this for everyone sometimes and you can do it, you just have to have some skills.

And I've learned that we don't need to go to the other side of the world to take a pause. 

You're invited to practice with expert guidance on the free Aura Meditation App, and to subscribe to my channel - Mindful Moments. 

Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.

With Love,

Lauren