I have an up-and-down and back-and-forth relationship with meditation. In theory, I love meditation and recommend it often. But I struggle to maintain an individual practice. There have been periods of my life when I maintained a daily or almost daily meditation routine easily, but right now is absolutely not one of those times.
Throughout 2020, I’ve tried to shift from beating myself up for not meditating to finding little moments throughout the day to be mindful. When I started to overthink or feel stressed, I bring awareness to my body and my thoughts and I try to consider them gently and without judgment. This has been a helpful practice for my mental health, and I hope to continue it.
Recently, I realized that what I really want to do is stop attempting meditation altogether for the moment, and shift my focus to something else: solitude.
Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.
When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.
Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain.
Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.
Between podcasts, audiobooks, TV, and reading, I have very little time in my day in solitude. When I am actually alone, away from the boys and Tamara, I usually play a podcast or audiobook on my phone. My writing times are probably my most frequent experiences of solitude, and even while writing, I sometimes have some form of media playing in the background. I read my book whenever I get the chance, and I’ve always thought of that as solitude – but according to Newport’s definition, it’s not, and I think he’s right. My brain needs time to process. I think solitude is really beneficial for my writing practice as well – time for ideas to percolate and creativity to have space to thrive.
So, I am trying to switch my goal – from daily meditation or daily mindfulness, to trying to find times for zero input. When I’m about to do dishes and I start to ask Alexa to play the latest episode of The Mom Hour, I stop myself and I try out just doing the dishes with nothing playing in the background. This may sound tiny, but this is huge for an input junkie like myself.
I think it’s going to be an easier habit to maintain, since it’s not about scheduling something to do (meditate) when I don’t have time. It’s just about adjusting something that I’m doing anyway to make it more reflective and productive.
This is already going pretty well for me. Hoping to keep it up as 2021 progress – so that I can connect and disconnect all year long.