What intentional, focused solitude can teach us about ourselves.
I hid from my life for a while.
This is what I learned.
I write this (the pen and paper version, anyway) from a tent on a hill, between a forest and a stream. It’s raining, and about -2 degrees. I’m grinning.
Six weeks ago, I left my home in London for a stint in the Scottish countryside. My intention on arriving was nothing more complicated than to, well… be. I didn’t know what that meant, I just knew it was probably a good idea.
Six weeks later, and before I brave the return journey to the city’s unique mania — one that is by turns awesome and awful, energising and exhausting — I feel compelled to record what happened in my head during these quiet, isolated weeks.
At the very least, I hope the act of sharing it will help me keep hold of it when thrust back into the city’s abyss of distraction and activity and fun. Should it encourage others to create their own hiding place for a while, then all the better.
Here’s a summary of what I learned from my quiet corner of the world.
It takes a lot to get bored.
I totally thought I’d get bored. Surely, I thought, I’ll feel under-stimulated, under-entertained, under-motivated — isn’t boredom the opposite of distraction? I anticipated a lot of napping. And Netflix.
But it turns out that, without the usual attention-sucking distractions of daily life, other stuff starts to peek its head above the parapet — as though newly confident that it won’t be kicked aside in favour of the next Twitter notification. Not new stuff, plucked from oblivion; but things that were already there, hiding because they were afraid of being ignored if they showed their face. Things like what I’m good at, what makes me tick, what I’m curious about. Things that, once I’d seen them, meant boredom wasn’t really in the cards.
Silence isn’t so bad.
With no TV, no office, no cafés or public transport, life has been very quiet. I can hear the chatter going on in my head, and it’s become ever more coherent as it’s had room to speak its voice. I realise now how determinedly I blocked out silence before — defaulting to turning on the TV or firing up Spotify rather than enjoy 10 short minutes of my mind’s own monologue.
And it turns out the internal chatter I’d avoided isn’t so bad. I’ve always worked hard to be the type of person that I would choose to be friends with; so perhaps it shouldn’t be as surprising as it is that I’ve enjoyed hearing a bit more from this ‘me’ character. And when it’s negative, critical, or otherwise challenging, the very fact of hearing it means that I can better acknowledge it and respond. The monologue starts to become a bit more of a dialogue.
I am capable of concentration.
Like so many people, I have a quite woeful inability to concentrate for more than three minutes at a time. When I want to sit down and start something, I’m oh-so easily interrupted by things ‘out-there’ (phone calls, appointments to run to, urgent emails) and — more often— by things ‘in-here’ (sudden overwhelming urge to make a cup of tea, put some washing on, quickly check Facebook).
Free of external distractions, I seem to have stopped creating those even trickier internal distractions too. Take away the big, real ones and the niggly little ones start to disappear too. (Well, nearly. I’ll always be partial to a goat gif).
It’s been no small relief to find that attention spans are at least partially based on habit — not wholly dependent on some kind of innate ninja mind-control skills.
I can hear what my body wants. Firmly removed from the norms of my daily life and its blind, unquestioned routine, I had something of a blank slate to work with. I could follow what my body asked for, instead of mindlessly throwing stuff at it.
For example, I found out that: caffeine makes me feel like crap; I like to exercise mid-afternoon; I need at least a pint of water before 10am; and there are certain foods that make me feel happier and focus more. Not rocket science, but good to know.
Feelings are big, and that’s good.
I’ve always considered myself pretty well in touch with my feelings. I am, for the most part, reassuringly self-aware. But humans are infinitely complex fellows: there is always more there than we can see.
For better or worse, my emotions are now far more in my face. No longer skidding through each day’s scenarios and their attached emotions, everything I feel has a bit more space to be what it is. Unable to turn my head the other way — after all, there’s nothing distracting there to look at — I can only sit with them, ride them, and try to respond in a way that seems fitting. In the process, I’ve started to learn what to do with myself when I feel bad, and how to make the most of feeling good.
So, what now?
The flashing lights, loud noises and incessant movement of the city await. I’ve always loved them, that’s why I made London my home; but now I feel somewhat reluctant to be the knackered, buzzing, whirling dervish of a woman that was my modus operandi.
I’ve learned that a little quiet goes a long way. I plan to carve out moments of distraction-less, mania-free time — big and small.
So, if ever you stumble across a small solitary hermit girl, hiding in a tent somewhere in the South East of England on a rainy Tuesday evening, then you’ll know why. I’m escaping back to myself for a bit.
Becca Warner | Writer | Traveler
Becca Warner is a writer, traveler, and change-maker. She leads a team of revolutionaries at Escape the City, and explores the power of food for the brain and food as medicine on her website ThinkFeelFood.