Building a relationship with yourself: The gift of solitude

Dr Ottilia Brown

Building a relationship with yourself: The gift of solitude

Posted 10 Nov 2020

Health & Wellness

Dr. Ottilia Brown

Building a relationship with yourself: The gift of solitude

‘And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?’ - Rumi

This journey into the self is rewarding, tortuous, enlightening, excruciating, exhilarating, gut-wrenchingly painful and incredibly liberating. You will notice I intersperse the good with the uncomfortable, simply because it is uncomfortable. Yet once we settle into the discomfort, honour that which comes up, and discard that which no longer serves, the growth and freedom are simply indescribable. Often avoiding it seems the easiest thing to do. The reality is that this relationship with self is the most important relationship you will have in your lifetime… from it flows all relationships.

How do we develop relationships with others? We invest time and energy, we ask questions, we are curious… interested. It then logically follows that we have to do this with ourselves. Solitude, which is the state of being alone offers us an opportunity to spend time with the self... to get to know the self. Sometimes we shy away from this, filling each quiet moment with something… scrolling on our phones, watching series, something, anything not to be with ourselves, our thoughts, our fears, our pain. We are human beings; yet we spend most of our time human doing. It is in being that the doing becomes easier… that the living flows effortlessly… that the pain of the past has an opportunity to unfold and be healed.

The research on solitude reiterates its benefits. It can enhance creativity, improve problem-solving, deepen social connections and lead to better communication with others. Lower levels of sadness and loneliness, better emotional self-regulation and improved stress management have also been cited. How are these things achieved with solitude? It really depends on how you spend this time with self. It can be a time of torture, of negative thinking of replaying perceived failures or, it can be a time of genuine curiosity, observation and self-discovery. If any discomfort arises, compassionately witness it and allow space for it. Be willing to have the discomfort, label the emotions and notice the thoughts. Willingness and tolerance will allow the discomfort to pass sooner each time that this is practiced.

The How

  • Journaling can be a very useful way to start your journey into the self. Useful areas to explore include your values, goals that can help you live your values, and limiting beliefs that prevent you from living your values. Be curious, notice when you overreact to things, explore what the origins of that could be. If you are experiencing a particular difficulty, you could investigate your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, asking yourself, ‘What is being triggered in me?’ ‘What am I supposed to learn from this?’ Activate the observer self, the compassionate witness.
  • Meditation practice and breathe work. Both these practices have research backing demonstrating their physical and mental health benefits. From improving brain function to facilitating fast activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest-and-digest response), the evidence is pouring in. With regard to solitude these practices enable us to be still, with self, engaged only with that which is within. These practices can also aid in managing the dis-ease that may arise from old pain resurfacing during the journaling process. Initially, meditation by its very nature may be uncomfortable which facilitates the willingness to be with discomfort. With practice, this discomfort eases.
  • Spend time in nature. Wherever this may be for you, a park, the beach, a hike, a forest walk, the desert... Not only does time in nature help with memory recall and improved concentration, it also offers an opportunity for connection with self through mindfully being in the moment and noticing and reflecting on the vastness and beauty of nature and feeling part of something greater than the self. Slip off your shoes and ground/earth bare foot on grass or sand and benefit from instantly activating your rest-and-digest response and reducing inflammation in your body.
  • Go on a solo trip. In our day-to-day we often have to accommodate those around us at home and at work. And while this is a naturally cooperative way of existing, solo trips offer an opportunity to connect with the self without the interruption of having to consider another. Notice what comes up for you when you are on your own. Are you aware of what you like and what you want to do? Are you feeling lost and unsure of how to be on your own? Are you enjoying your solitude and time to reflect?
  • Psychotherapy can be a way of having a facilitated journey into the self. Psychotherapy is not only reserved for treating mental illness but can also be usedto develop a better understanding of the self, uncover limiting beliefs and assist with changing behavioural patterns that do not serve. It is important to connect with a therapist that fits your needs and personality style and where there is a feeling of psychological safety, balanced with a healthy dose of challenge to disrupt the status quo.

Solitude is sacred… a gift to self which can lead to a profound experience of being. When we realize that ‘The wound is the place where the Light enters you’ (Rumi) we understand that in facing our wounds, we offer ourselves the gift of freedom. Wishing you well on your journey into the self. May it be for you what it is for all who have truly ventured inward; an illuminating and emancipatory awakening.

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mohamadfazial_415 says:

3 days 1 hour ago
I believe we all need do these now the world is in really poor and sad shape. Thankyou Doctor for sharing and helping give us ideas to stay happy when not easy the way we all living at the moment.

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

6 hours 17 min ago
Dear Mohamad... thank you for your comment. Yes it is an incredibly difficult time on our planet. I hope you can find some solitude and connect with yourself amidst all the chaos. Kind regards, Ottilia