The Importance of Solitude: Reconnecting With Your Inner Self

The Importance of Solitude: Reconnecting With Your Inner Self

Our lives are so inundated with communication it’s overwhelming – text messages, emails, phone calls, the internet. And we’ve read a million articles reminding us how addicted we are to these things, yet it’s difficult to free ourselves from the clutches of these distractions. Maybe, it’s time to consider the benefits of solitude and carve out time to isolate ourselves from the interminable notifications of our interconnected world.

Sitting with One’s Thoughts: A Shocking Statistic

In 2014, a study published in the journal Science found that most people would rather shock themselves than sit undisturbed with their thoughts. Even after experiencing the shock before the trial and saying they would pay money not to be shocked again, 25 percent of women and 67 percent of men chose to shock themselves while sitting alone for 15 minutes. One of the participants even decided to shock himself 190 times in that period, but that person’s masochism is beside the point.

Unsurprisingly, results showed the majority of subjects did not enjoy their time sitting alone and being asked to simply think. Half of these participants rated their experience at, or below, a level of “somewhat enjoyable,” while most ranked it highly on a boredom scale.

Why is it so difficult for us to go inward and block out external stimuli? One theory claims it’s an evolutionary survival mechanism. Known as the Scanner Hypothesis, some researchers believe that as mammals we’ve evolved to monitor our environments for both danger and opportunity. Therefore, our brains consider doing nothing a waste of time.

But we evolved to be more than mere mammals behaving on natural instinct, or at least we have the ability to transcend those instincts if we consciously choose to do so. That’s what separates man from beast, right?

Unfortunately, our lives aren’t always conducive to the ascetic lifestyle, and taking a sabbatical to go live like a certain civilly disobedient poet at Walden Pond isn’t always in the cards. So, what can the average person do to escape the torpor of our stimulus saturated society?

Inner Worlds Outer Worlds

Unplugging from Technology

How many times have you been waiting in line at the store, or sitting in a waiting room scrolling through social media before realizing you’ve retained almost nothing you just consumed? Think about it next time you’re casually scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, try to remember what you saw five posts ago – our mindless consumption is scary sometimes.

Alas, we must stay connected — we’re expected to. But if we devote an entire hour every day to rid ourselves of those connections, the psychological benefits may be pleasantly surprising.

The next step is to sit alone with your monkey mind, as the Buddhists refer to it, and go inward. Not so shockingly, the minority of subjects in the aforementioned study who enjoyed spending 15 minutes doing nothing, often had experience with meditation. Learning to accept the endless flow of thoughts and opinions crowding our minds is the first hurdle of meditation and mindfulness, and it’s not easy. But there’s no learning or achievement in anything easy. The work is in the pain and struggle; that’s the only way to grow and accomplish anything in life.

Sensory Deprivation Tanks a.k.a. Isolation Tanks

John C. Lilly invented the sensory deprivation tank in 1954 in an attempt to isolate the mind from all external stimuli. Lilly was interested in studying the depths of our psyche, and throughout his life frequently transcended numerous realms of consciousness. He even devised a scale for it based on the Buddhist enlightenment concept of Satori.

Today, sensory deprivation tanks have seen an explosion in popularity, especially over the past decade. Filled with hundreds of pounds of salt, these tanks allow for maximum buoyancy and are typically pitch black. Users experience disorienting weightlessness, where physical sensation disappears, leaving only the mind.

Most find float tanks pleasant and therapeutic; an environment for introspection, meditation, and tranquility. This abandonment of all sensory perception can lead to psychedelic experiences and profound personal insight. And floating around in a dark tub of water prohibits technological distraction, forcing the confrontation of the monkey mind.

Retreats and Isolation from Society

Those in need of a life-changing event or paradigm shift may need to devote a little more effort to finding solitude. Silent retreats are one way to disconnect from the world and they’ve become increasingly popular with the rise of Eastern spiritual practices in the Western world. Participants in these retreats take a vow of silence for days or weeks in order to go inward, while also cultivating self-discipline.

Jesse Itzler took the isolation retreat to the next level by temporarily living in a monastery in upstate New York. Itzler’s goal was to radically disconnect himself from the chaos of modern society and his fast-paced life as a successful entrepreneur. So, he spent two weeks living among a group of Russian Orthodox monks who spent much of their day in silent contemplation.

On his first night at 6:00 p.m., Itzler was brought to a modest room called a cell, with nothing but a desk and a bed. He was told to be ready the following day for prayer, meditation, and reflection at 7:15 a.m. Asking what he was supposed to do in the 13 hours until then, he was simply told to think.

Itzler had some experience with meditation, so to assuage his initial anxiety and boredom, he did so. After closing his eyes and attempting to silence his mind, Itzler believed he had meditated for hours until he looked at his watch and realized only three-and-a-half minutes had elapsed. Thus, began the longest two weeks of his life. In the end, he said the disconnection from society changed him for the better and improved personal relationships with his wife, family, and friends. But it wasn’t easy.

No matter which method is best for you, the scientific benefits of solitude and disconnection from the world are countless. Solitude is proven to boost productivity, build mental acuity, increase empathy, and harbor creativity. So, whether you decide to commit an hour, day, week, or even months to finding your solitude and reconnecting with your inner self… do it, especially if it’s difficult.

 

Watch Hide Away, a movie telling the story of a successful, but emotionally drained businessman who finds solitude on a journey into the refuge of nature:

Hide Away


Samhain Unveiled: Tracing its Origins and Time-Honored Rituals

Samhain Unveiled: Tracing its Origins and Time-Honored Rituals

Samhain is a time-honored tradition followed by witches, Wiccans, ancient druids, and countless other modern pagans across the world, and celebrated as October turns to November. Samhain is a festival of the dead, meaning “Summer’s End,” and though you’re probably tempted to pronounce it “sam-hane,” it’s actually pronounced saah-win or saah-ween.

What is a Samhain Celebration?

Samhain is a sacred and ancient Celtic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It holds deep spiritual significance as it honors our ancestors, acknowledges the time of year when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is thinnest, and embraces the mysteries of life and death. Samhain typically takes place from October 31st to November 1st and involves various rituals and traditions, such as ancestor veneration, divination, bonfires, costume dressing, feasting, and releasing and renewing rituals. It’s also celebrated as the beginning of the spiritual new year for Wicca practitioners, which is also why it’s nicknamed “The Witches’ New Year.” Samhain serves as a time of reflection, transformation, and connection with the natural and supernatural realms, reminding us of the cyclical nature of existence and the eternal bond with our ancestral heritage. If this celebration sounds oddly familiar, it’s because our modern Halloween, although different, originates from this Gaelic tradition. Historically, most American Halloween traditions were brought over by Irish and Scottish immigrants.

How to Celebrate Samhain

Samhain is typically celebrated by preparing a dinner to celebrate the harvest. The holiday is meant to be shared with those who have passed on as well as those still with us. Set a place at the table for those in the spiritual plane, providing an offering for them upon every serving throughout the meal. In addition to those who have passed, invite friends and family to enjoy the feast with you. Typical beverages include mulled wine, cider, and mead, and are to be shared with the dead throughout the meal.

Halloween Similarities & Differences

Despite occurring at similar times and containing similar themes, Samhain and Halloween are not the same holiday. Halloween, short for All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated on and around Oct. 31 and tends to be more family-focused. On the other hand, Samhain is more religious in focus and spiritually observed by practitioners.

There are some more light-hearted observances in honor of the dead through Samhain, but the underlying tone of Samhain is one of a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites are benevolent, and although they are somber and centered on death, they do not involve human or animal sacrifices, as some rumors may claim. Another difference between Samhain and Halloween is that most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.

When to Start the Celebrations

If you want to start honoring this pagan tradition, you might wonder when to start. The timing of contemporary Samhain celebrations varies according to spiritual tradition and geography. Practitioners state to celebrate Samhain over several days and nights, and these extended observances usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and the spiritual community.

In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on October 31 through November 1. Others hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time. Some Pagans observe Samhain a bit later, or near November 6, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday. In the end, it’s really up to you!

Honoring Life, Death, & Nature

Samhain isn’t necessarily a creepy, morbid holiday obsessed with death, as some may conclude. Instead, it reaches for themes deeper than that, tying in with nature’s rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back by killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air.

This contributes to the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thin between the world of the living and the realm of the dead, facilitating contact and communication with the dead. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them. However, it’s also a way to appreciate life when you get right down to it.

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