Be mindful of choice. Be conscious of pain. Let in the deluge of thought.
The virtue of one’s own company is a forgotten therapy in today’s society. Spending time alone is something that is feared, rather than embraced. The demands of daily life – crippling work schedules, relationships, finances, the modern necessity to be sociable – reduces our ability to spend time alone and, in my view, restricts our ability to be objective about our lives. There is much to be gained from solitude.
To crudely quote Virginia Woolf, having ‘a room of one’s own’, having space both mentally and physically, is absolutely essential within my daily life. I would go as far as to say that my mental health absolutely depends upon it. Since moving to Berlin, I have been privileged enough to be temporarily distanced from the anxieties of modern life. My brain has finally stopped ticking. I walked along the pavement this morning with no real destination in mind and felt myself increasingly aware of my surroundings. For once, I could hear the birds sing.
I like to see spending time alone as a time to put myself back together, to declutter the space in my brain. Psychologically clearing away residual thoughts in the mind is as necessary to me as chucking out old, unused possessions in my home. Solitude has long been associated with loneliness where it should be associated with freedom. Solitude can be a practice for long-term mental health.
My most productive musings have often occurred when I have been alone in unfamiliar surroundings. Perspective on life can sometimes be found by taking a step out of our usual environment. Empathy was often described to me as a child as ‘understanding what it is like to be in another’s shoes’. Perhaps having empathy with ourselves involves stepping out of our own shoes once in a while and stepping back into them with renewed clarity.
Psychologically switching off
The mind is a muscle. It needs to be exercised, stretched, challenged, but it also needs time to rest. The brain is the same.
When we are so used to being permanently stimulated, it can be hard to sit still for too long.
My mum often reminds me about the fact that, unlike most babies, I learned to stand before even learning to sit up. She uses this as an analogy for me now. I never complete one task without starting another. I flit from one thing to the next. I anxiously worry about the future rather than the present.
I never give myself time to just be.
And this is what all of us do. We stand before we can sit. We run before we can walk.
We are the generation of immediacy. Things happen at the click of a button. If only it were just as easy to click ‘off’ in our minds.
Unplug and live for now
When I am restless I like to walk, aimlessly. This reminds me that I don’t always have to have a plan. Perhaps my message is entirely banal, but I speak with the sincerity of experience.
I highly prize the virtue of being disconnected.
Tiziano Terzani cherished self-reliance, writing that ‘The only real teacher is not in a forest, or a hut or an ice cave in the Himalayas. It is within us.’ He preached of finding meaning and value in adversity and personal experience. Having time alone to mentally declutter has often proved to be the best antidote for me in periods of high anxiety.
Perhaps having a conversation with yourself may be the only therapy you need.