I've spent a lot of time alone. It's more familiar and comfortable to me than the company of other people, to be honest.
I was a latch-key kid. And when my older sister decided, like many older siblings, that she was done with me and that left me, alone, to learn how to be in my own company.
And I think I've done an okay job of it. But from my coaching (and my life) I notice how many people struggle with being alone and the ways they avoid it. Or even when they choose alone time, they suffer through it or numb out with a Netflix and ice cream binge.
*DISCLAIMER: sitting and watching Netflix and eating ice cream isn't the problem--it's the escapism used to avoid life that is the problem. There's a distinction.*
I think being alone is tough because being human is not an easy feat. When we're alone we have to be present to how shitty and hard life is. When we are with people, we can distract ourselves!
"Wow! Look at that thing you bought!
BOO! Listen to me complaining about my life!
YAY! The SOX WIN!!!"
So much distraction...
And while it's true that we got with some instructions (be nice, don't kill, don't steal, etc.), hardly anyone is really following them and it's a hot mess all around. Finding a way to achieve some inner peace amidst the chaos takes super-human skill.
But I've been studying and working hard for many years and I think I've done an okay job of figuring life out a bit so I'd like to share some superhumanness with you, in case you need it. Specifically this post is about getting some alone time in case you either haven't learned how important it is to be alone on purpose and actually like it OR because you're flat out avoiding it. But I think you should prioritize it because it's important to your development as a human being. It's crucial to your health and happiness. And you don't need to run off and be a hermit or recluse but you may want to consider how much alone time you get and if it's really enough. And if you're getting none, why?
So, to walk my talk in addition to spending *most* of my life alone, I went camping alone with hardly any plan on purpose this past weekend. And I learned a lot and want to share what I learned with you. Maybe you're not an outdoors kinda gal (name that movie!) or guy but maybe you'll find something in here and connect it to what feels comfortable for you.
Because I've learned that we can never truly find comfort until we become comfortable with discomfort. And being alone can be uncomfortable for people.
Or some people end up being alone because they prefer it over the discomfort of interacting with other humans. Learning how to sit in that discomfort and not run away is a beautiful thing and will make you stronger on the inside.
Check in with yourself. Are you constantly surrounding yourself with other people or the company of one other person and hardly ever, ever, alone by yourself in ways that nourish and replenish you? (commuting to and from work doesn't count, sorry)
Or are you constantly alone mostly because you cannot handle the discomfort of other people?
Either one isn't really balance.
Whatever your answer, or if you're not even sure, get yourself some serious alone time to learn more about yourself.
Here's what happened when I did:
I left Boston headed for Vermont with two plans: see an old friend to say hi and camp. I got a tent recently after many years of wanting one and using ones belonging to other people. The staff member at REI asked me if I was getting into backpacking/camping and I said, "getting BACK into it" because it's been an identity of mine for almost 20 years. God, have I been alive that long?! Yikes.
(Camping is in tents! ---- get it?)
I made barebones plans shooting from the hip. I booked a site without knowing who or what I'd find there. It was pretty exhilarating! When I arrived at my pal's place, we fell into authentic conversation like no time had passed when in fact it had been five years. So nice when that happens, eh? We grabbed lunch and I headed out to my campsite. I felt like a pioneer! Adventure, here I come!
The campsite was decent. More than decent actually. I know some folks who are hardcore backpacking types. In fact, being at this site brought up two memories with two different people who both frowned on group car-camping sites. You know what? I felt the same this time as I did back then, "it's good enough for me."
I had practiced setting up my tent (wise decision, Dillan) so I knew it only took me about 30 seconds. Here's the tent I have:
Yes. Instant relaxation. Or something like it.
I read for a while and struggled to sit still. Like STRUGGLED. I'm so habituated to running around and shuffling from thing to thing, even at home, that sitting on the ground and feeling "grounded" took some effort. Intentional effort. But a book is good to calm me usually so I settled in and read. It was very humid and hot and people were being quite noisy as people are no matter where you live or are. I don't remember eating dinner. In fact, I think I was so tired I just fell asleep.
And tossed and turned most of that night because my bag is filled with goose down and it was HAF and I had no pillow.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, Dillan that doesn't sound very relaxing or good at all. But it was, actually, because I struggled through it as an exercise in finding peace.
Because that's the way it works according to what I've been told, taught and experienced. Comfort doesn't often equal happiness, in fact most people SETTLE for comfort INSTEAD of happiness. Try that one on for size. ;)
So, I made it through the night. Woke up early (like I usually do) and headed for the showers with my new headlamp and handy little fast-drying towel that I got from REI before I left Boston.
I needed soap and bug spray so I headed to the local CO-OP. Remember this trip was to camp, not endure a pilgrimage in the wilderness. I was fine with creature comforts like Dr. Bronner's soap and bug spray. I recommend this one, having worked in natural food stores for much of my life (and it worked well on this trip, too!)
(Food, a hike, Wal-Mart, more food and a fire)
It was time to eat. I asked the nice woman who helped me find bug spray where I should eat if I wanted eggs, bacon and pancakes (in that order). She gave it some thought and then got really lit up at the end of sending me out where she lived to get the best breakfast. Her smile was adorable. Her name was Peggy and she was everything you'd think a Peggy would be.
She lived about 30 minutes away.
Fine, I said. Tell me where to go.
I drove there and had a pretty tasty breakfast and then a weird thing happened, which has been happening more lately. I go from feeling like a total stranger in places like that to suddenly feeling like I know the people better than I should. There's a shift that happens and I can't explain it better than that. It's like, "hey, I know you" even though I don't. It's weird. I asked the server where I should hike and maybe she thought I was hitting on her (which I wasn't) because she blushed and seemed a little uncomfortable but told me most people go to Monadnock and said, "are you not from here?" and I said, "nope" and she said, "yeah, most people go there."
And I considered it. She walked away and talked to some guy sitting at a table and I felt like I was in middle school again--were they laughing at me because I asked? Was it something else? I can be paranoid sometimes.
I paid and left. Definitely noticed the shift in my internal state from earlier that morning. The feeling of joy and walking on air and total confidence was replaced with feeling small and I felt so silly. Here I am, a grown adult, feeling the same feelings I felt as a kid. Some of that never leaves us, I guess. I shook it off pretty quickly, though, as the noticing and acknowledging helps us do, and got in my car and headed South again.
Took a detour on the way home to explore a bit and ended up back near Brattleboro. My friend from the day before had strongly advised me to hike a certain trail and I found it coming in the back entrance. The humidity of the day before had broken and the shaded path was totally serene and perfect.
I hiked to the top and took some shots there and back...
The hike didn't take long and part of me wanted to stay forever. Hanging out with the trees and just being there felt totally relaxing. In Boston, it's hard to find a trail or setting where you can't hear the traffic at least a little. This was not that and I didn't want to leave the peaceful quiet. But I had to pee, so that won over staying.
I stopped at the CO-OP again on my way back through town and had some lunch. It involved waiting on line for a while for a sandwich. I use time like that to practice meditation. I practice noticing other people and the things they do when they are unhappy or entitled or anxious. I notice my own impatience. I breathe. I wait. I breathe some more. The young person behind the counter finally called my name and as she handed me my sandwich she said, "have a great day. Thanks for being so patient." And her quiet, impeccable customer service made a profound impact! It was definitely COOL. Just a few simple words, "thank you for your patience" made such a difference. It's so simple and takes such little effort--why don't we do or say these things to people all the time? How cool would that be?
I ate and then stopped by Wal-Mart on the way back the campsite to see if I could find a small pillow. More wandering. Some interesting folks meandering around the store.
As I was about to buy a very small and uncomfortable-looking (and smelling) pillow fashioned after the latest emojis (the angry face, naturally, because it could be my spirit animal) I found, to my delight, things called Travel Pillows in the pillow department. They are about 20"x12" and look absolutely perfect when you're down a night's sleep. And of the two available choices, this was the pillow cover I picked:
Returning to my campsite, I set up camp again because I had taken my stuff with me, not trusting folks to leave it alone.
And I noticed that about myself and thought it interesting. Was it wise to bring all my gear with me or maybe I could have just left it there?
I got to work washing out my towel and pillow cover with my new soap. A simple thing like noticing a pre-existing clothesline from a prior camper at my site made my heart jump.
Then, I set up my hammock and tried to read. I set it up well but too high so I invented a way to get up into it using my cooler.
Sounds so silly but the trial and error situations I encountered all weekend really fed my curious Gemini mind and lifted my spirits. I like solving puzzles and the feeling of self-confidence was fulfilling. It was fun to figure it out, alone.
Then I tried to read more. And then write. And then nap. There was a lot of restlessness. Lots of thinking about thinking. Lots of wondering what I'd do about dinner.
And since I hadn't planned too far out ahead it felt very unstructured and inefficient but that ended up being exactly what I needed! I realized how much of my life IS structured and efficient and while it's wonderful and all that, it was throwing me wildly out of balance. It was stronger than my ability to be carefree and joyful and in the moment. I notice this with many clients and friends. In the search for "hacking" their way through life to save time or a dollar, they have become so careful and not very joyful. There is joy in spontaneity!! And these folks have little of that but instead vast amounts of complaint and stuckness. Routine and planning is indeed efficient but can also be our undoing if we aren't careful.
I got back in the car (again) and drove back to the co-op. Upon arriving I realized I had no knife to cut anything and they didn't have heavy-duty foil to grill anything. I noticed on the way out of camp that I could get firewood but I didn't even have matches! The co-op had three huge boxes of matches which I passed on. Didn't need that many. After some intense, hunger-filled wandering and frustration and picking up random food items and putting them back down, I had a breakthrough.
Back in my old days of working at my local health food store in Flemington, NJ, my friend and I would make guac with avocados and salsa. That memory prompted me to keep thinking about healthy foods that didn't need any cooking or prep. I was using my past experience and it opened up a whole new access to a solution! Instantly, I felt the huge shift in my mood and my internal state. I went from frustrated and annoyed and confused and anxious to completely confident and HAPPY! This is the joy what happens when you have no plan and have to find a way by yourself!
I grabbed a small thing of cheese from their "mistake" basket, a jar of organic salsa, some chips I loved, some prepared greens (which I didn't end up loving), hummus and some raw carrots. Completely decent food that would tide me over until the next day.
Oh. And cookies, of course.
Upon arriving back to camp, I asked the site supervisor if I could buy some wood. I spent $6 on six pieces. He had no matches. After passing up the ones in the co-op, I had considered buying some at the gas stations on the way back in but assumed he'd have something. You know what they say about assuming...
He suggested I ask my site neighbors, many of whom were doing this waving thing. We don't really do that where I live. I was like, "do they know me?" but no. It's a thing I guess. Waving. What is that? It was weird at first and then it was cool. For one thing, I was passing 100% and that was super weird but fun to experience. So asking these waving, friendly folks for matches wasn't ideal but I was willing to do it. But I didn't have to. A voice came from somewhere and said, "check your bag."
And friends, there was a matchbook in there. With three matches left. I had never been MORE GLAD to have been a SMOKER than in that moment. PS, I recently quit completely cold-turkey after smoking one cigarette a day pretty regularly for the past two years--it's pretty great.
I spent the rest of that night completely content. Me, my fire and my book.
I read until there was no more light left.
It began to rain and I hoped for the best. My new pillow delivered and I slept through the night. Once again, I did the calling out thing that I think I've shared before--there's something about tents that makes me have WILD dreams and I shout in my sleep! It's embarrassing. The last time it happened I was convinced a bear or raccoon was coming in the tent and I shouted at the top of my lungs and woke up everyone in camp. This time it was just me and I thought a small child or baby was coming in the tent. W.T. actual F.
Morning came and it was still raining and starting to weep through my tent fly so I packed it in, showered again (I am not good at being dirty for long periods of time, especially now with testosterone in my body--makes me much more stinky than estrogen) and headed for home. Camp breakdown was super efficient because I'd packed everything up the night before. All that tidying of my living space on the regular came in REAL handy.
I had no qualms about bailing. I had gotten everything I needed from the experience.
And then some.
So my question to you is this: what will YOUR solo adventure be and when will it happen?
Share in the comments below so I can hold you to it! :)