Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.
Some have encountered intolerable suffering. They have spent up to twenty years in prison, and yet some of them have told me it was the best time of their lives, because they were able to do intense prayer, meditation, and virtuous practice.
--The Dalai Lama
I wonder if anyone truly realizes what a gift it is to be alone. Where else can one appreciate the depth of one’s soul? Of course, most of us wouldn’t choose to go to prison to discover the benefits, but being alone has been given a bad rap—and often I find that people who cannot stand to be alone just don’t like themselves very much.
Until you are alone you cannot hear the still inner voice--you know it, the one that says things like: You’re really a jerk, you know that? And it’s also the one that says: I love you and I respect you and you are really incredible.
Aside from the usual jokes about hearing voices, in my experience people refer to these inner thoughts in many ways: calling them messages from angels, spirit guides, channeling, talking to God, etc. I don’t think any of that really matters. What matters is there is real and powerful wisdom in these thoughts. And without enough time alone we may never hear them.
We know that too much time alone is bad, but what happens if we don’t get enough time? Without enough time alone, a kind of pressure builds—thoughts and feelings need to be acknowledged or we risk bringing them out in inappropriate ways—acting out, yelling, all kinds of things. And who really wants to behave like that?
Also, I find that a good number of people have lost a sense of who they are—perhaps never really knew—and they don’t know what they’re here on the planet to do. So many people seek outside themselves for the answers, when truly they are always within.
Sure, you can talk to someone that can trigger what you already know is wisdom at some deep level within yourself—after all, I hope I’m doing that right now with some of you out there! But you will find that the best spiritual teachers are the ones that encourage you to do inner work on your own.
Too much time alone can also be bad of course—or time spent lingering over things said or done that have not been handled skillfully. Why do we do this? We wouldn’t take ourselves into an alley and flail away at ourselves physically—so why do we do that mentally and emotionally? When we have done or said something we regret, when we use our alone time for this, it’s like paying twice. Don’t do it.
So I recommend that everyone reading this schedule some alone time—and do I mean REALLY alone. There are other times you can go halfway between being alone and in a crowd of friends that comfort and uplift you. But there is no substitute for truly being alone with your own thoughts.
You also might be surprised at the ideas that come up when you make time to tune out all the flack of the day, concerns about other people, noises. Soft music is all right, but nothing you would find distracting.
If you have never tried this, do it for an extended, regular period—start with a week for fifteen minutes per day. At first, as with monkey mind, you may see random thoughts come up…but try to direct your soul into a place where you can ask questions and feel safe to know you will get the answers you need.
Mind you, they might not be the ones you expect or want to hear! But they will be honest. You might not be able to trust anyone else—but you can always trust yourself. And if something comes up that feels bad, just be gentle. Ask yourself what you wanted to accomplish when you did or said the thing, and how you will correct the issue or prevent it in future. This time is not about beating yourself up—it is about seeing what you need to see, accepting and releasing it.
Above all, don’t look at being alone as a sentence. It’s just not. In fact, it’s truly a gift!