5 Lessons I Learned from 28 Days of Isolation

Connection to others, acceptance of how you feel, the importance of routine, play and meaning, and your fundamental need for growth will help you get through this time of self isolation.

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Many of us are spending weeks alone at the moment, so I thought I might share what I discovered was useful during my 28 days of isolation in the mountains of Colorado last summer. I am sure you already know about the benefits of meditation, diet, exercise, journaling etc… This article is more about how you are going to manage yourself and through what lens will you look at this situation?

‘Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw stars’. Dale Carnegie  

Don’t Count the Days – Count the Lessons

On first impression being isolated may feel like an extremely static experience. However, it is anything, but static. The magical thing about being alone and in one place for a length of time is that you notice what changes. The change within yourself is much easier to tune into when you are not distracted by different places and by lots of people. 

We all have a fundamental need for growth and this is an ideal opportunity to ask yourself what sort of growth or what sort of challenge you are looking for. You might think of skills you would like to get better at. Every day during my solo I practiced tai chi and different meditations. They kept me focused and gave me great satisfaction when I saw improvement. 

However, there is a deeper level to growth than perhaps learning a new skill. Self-isolation is a big change in circumstance for many of us; we are likely to experience discomfort and with that there is an opportunity for an internal shift. The change that we have been too fearful to confront we will no longer be able to ignore; relationships that aren’t working; career’s that aren’t fulfilling; the place where we live that is no longer serving.

Any discomfort that we experience points to what we need to attend to in our lives. If we numb it out, we miss out on all that wisdom from one of our greatest teachers – ourselves.

You may think the source of your discomfort is the isolated circumstance you find yourself in, but it is likely to be deeper than that…

What if this situation doesn’t change for months? What needs to change in you and what benefit can come from that? How are you going to live differently when you have more freedom to move around?

Dedicate this Experience to a Meaningful Cause

“I was born when all I once feared, I could love.” Rabia Al Basri

This period of isolation is going to point to what matters. Stay connected to whatever that is and channel your growth towards something greater than just you; something that serves the whole. In this way you will build resilience, resourcefulness and stay motivated. By taking the attention away from ourselves we transcend the loneliness and the fear. As a Climate Change Coach and a former soldier I know that when it comes to taking meaningful and bold action in the face of an existential threat people move less for fear, than for what they truly value and for what, and who, they love. 

Keep a Routine; but Balance This with Emergence

“We are a society of notoriously unhappy people: lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent — people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save.” Erich Fromm

Find out what you want from your days – it could be vitality, reassurance, focus or comfort for example. Then find the routine that gives you that. Morning routines are especially important. Every day I would walk to the river to wash when the sun was at a certain point in the sky (I didn’t have a watch).  I would take the same route, and then when I was at the river I had a certain washing routine that supported me. Being disciplined brought familiarity and certainty when I was struggling with loneliness and fear. 

However, at some point I would get really bored or feel stuck with a routine and so I would change it. For example I would change where I stored my food or where in the river I would wash. These small changes had a huge impact on my morale, because they would support me seeing things from a different perspective. 

Be conscious of everything that you do. Sometimes our routines can become ossified; we just go through the motions and or we do them to kill time. Find the value and purpose in each activity and if it’s no longer working then change it. 

Conversely, I think it is also important, to set aside chunks of the day where there is no ‘doing’ and no structure – perhaps you can call this play or just being. The space this creates allows for insights to emerge. Structure and emergence are polar opposites. Too much structure doesn’t allow space for creativity; too much emergence doesn’t allow you the opportunity to integrate your learning and execute your plan. If you are someone who heavily favours structure or complains for not having enough time on their hands this might be a wonderful opportunity for you to redress this imbalance?

Accept There Will be Good Times and Bad Times

‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ Blaise Pascal 1662

In my experience in Colorado my state of being would go up and down all the time. I began to realise this was just a natural flow that had very little to do with the weather or any other outside circumstance. Nothing in nature goes in a straight line, and our internal state, you may have noticed, is no different. I weaved through an ever-changing landscape of thoughts and emotions.  When I was down, I knew that tomorrow would be different and after a while I learned to trust this. I am certain that the less attached I was to how I felt, the more of my internal resistance I was processing and the more I grew. For those emotions and thoughts that tend to persist it can be useful to look into what’s going on, but much emotion, be it ‘good’ or ‘bad’, doesn’t need explanation, instead you can just watch it all unfold as if on a stage in front of you and stay unattached – if you can!

Find Something or Someone to Connect to

‘Happiness is only real, when shared.” Christopher McCandless

I didn’t have people to connect to, but had the mountains and the rivers and the birds. I spent most of my time in relationship with them and they supported me through the elation and joy and the sadness and frustration. You need to find some support from somewhere – you can’t do this alone. 

Call your friends, send emails – connect with people. If you have something in your home, which is also alive such as a fire or a plant, then these can be of great support to you. Talk to them; show them your gratitude for their presence. This might sound daft, but trust me; there is something deeply soothing about breaking the silence around us when we are alone.  I find it helps any heaviness to fall away, almost as if I am physically releasing it into the space around me through my words.

On my solo I felt lonely at times, but I didn’t experience being alone. The more time I spent in stillness and solitude, the more I felt the aliveness of the space around me; it has its own quality of presence. Self-isolation might not be an easy experience, but in a world that’s increasingly frenetic I believe this is a golden opportunity for us all to meet ourselves exactly where we are.  

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