This is the ninth post in my 30 for 30/30 series where I am publishing a new post each day for the next 30 days within a 30-minute window without much of a plan. You can read about why I’m doing this by clicking this link.
Regardless of your chosen belief system, or as in my case the complete lack of one, there are five daily practices that I recommend as a blueprint for living a happy and contented life.
It doesn’t matter whether you identify as a practicing Christian, Buddhist, Jew, or non-theist – when engaged on a daily basis, these five practices can transform your life in a very meaningful way.
I’m going to spend this and the following four 30 For 30/30 posts succinctly explaining each one. I’m evaluating whether or not these posts, when taken together, might become a new book project, so I’ll attempt to lay out clearly the what, why, and how of each daily practice in these posts.
In brief, the five daily transformative practices are:
- Sitting in solitude
- Embracing simplicity
- Engaging in kindness
- Cultivating self-expression
- Respecting the body
Today’s post will explain Practice #1:
Daily Practice #1 – Spending Time in Solitude
About ‘Spending Time in Solitude”
[I recently revised this practice from one of spending time in silence to spending time in solitude. As I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s excellent book, Digital Minimalism, it has informed me more fully on the topic of solitude. After some consideration, I altered this first practice to be more inclusive than its previous version.]
A daily practice of spending time in solitude doesn’t have to mean establishing a formal meditation practice. You don’t need to buy any incense or a tiny Buddha statue or set up any kind of altar. Though completely harmless, that can be threatening to some.
I like this definition of spending time in solitude from Newport’s book:
Solitude: The practice of spending time alone with your own thoughts and free from the input from other minds
This means that during our time devoted to solitude, we are free from the input of others, such as listening to music or podcasts, dining alone while watching television, or meeting a friend for coffee while being distracted by our phones.
Rather, this daily practice involves devoting a time of day to some time alone without any distractions; a time of reflection and commitment. Here are some forms of spending time in solitude that might work for your situation:
- silent prayer – assuming you don’t actually hear the voice of a deity, if you have a regular prayer life, sitting in silence can easily be this time with some added time for reflection, reading, or journaling
- breath meditation – sitting quietly and observing your breath; returning to the breath when thoughts distract you
- 20 minutes of awesome – Colin Wright popularized this 20MA practice of spending 20 minutes in solitude just letting the brain do what it does best – generate thoughts and see where they go
- journaling – writing in a daily journal or adding a journaling practice at the conclusion of your chosen mode of sitting in silence can be a valuable practice on its own and provide you with a personal historical record of your practice
- gratitude – thinking about and sitting with all that you are grateful for in your life is also a great way to sit in silence
- walking – taking a long walk in nature or anywhere while free of anything but background noise; this allows you to be with your thoughts and actually frees portions of the brain for creative thinking
Why You’d Want to Engage this Practice
Spending time in daily solitude, whether it’s five minutes or five hours, is a well-documented practice throughout philosophical and religious history. Evangelicals have their quiet time, Quakers often sit together in a friend’s circle and observe their inner relationship with Deity, and Buddhists sit zazen.
Beyond the traditions of various spiritual lineages, there are numerous mental, emotional, and physiologic benefits to a regular practice of spending time in solitude regardless of the form it takes.
- lowered blood pressure (for the non-ambulatory examples above)
- decreased circulating stress hormones that can cause cellular damage
- improving memory
- stimulating brain growth and plasticity
- useful in fighting insomnia and aiding in overall sleep quality
- heightened sensitivity to color, sound, and emotions
- calmer overall demeanor
- becoming less prone to engage in drama
- greater insight into what makes you tick
How to Engage this Practice
To begin a practice of sitting in silence (as opposed to just being in solitude), first, choose a time and place that you know will be free of distraction. It could be early morning before family members arise. It might be just before work, alone in your car in a parking garage. It could also be just before bed, though my experience with after dinner or evening sitting in silence is traditionally known as sleep. 🙄
Here are some steps for engaging this practice:
1- After you have a time and place that provides the solitude and distraction-free environment that this practice requires, focus on your posture. Adopt a posture that includes a straight back (one tip is to sit at the edge of your chair instead of against the back) with your feet flat on the floor or if sitting in meditation, your posture is stable with your knees in contact with the floor assuming you’re sitting in a lotus, half-lotus, or Burmese position.
2- Take in a few slow deep breaths to calm your mind. Focus on what it feels like to inhale and exhale. Note the quality of each inhalation and exhalation. Then allow to breath to resume its normal pattern.
3- Focus on your chosen modality.
-If you pray, then pray silently. Follow your prayer time with some journaling.
-If you are engaging in 20MA, allow your mind to generate whatever thoughts it will. Follow each until a new one pops up. Trust me, it will. Follow with some time for journaling.
-If you are engaging in zazen, adopt a comfortable posture, focus on the breath and return to the breath when a thought arises. If it helps to have a mantra, although they should be personally meaningful, try using “thank you, breath.” Follow with time for journaling.
4- Conclude with a moment of gratitude to and for your practice – acknowledge how much you appreciate your time in silence. This is like a private thank you to the self, the soul, or the higher power within for this time.
5- Take the peace you’ve experienced (with daily practice with will happen) into your day with a sense of reverence – Even if you don’t believe in a higher power or aren’t certain what you believe, you can take benefits of your sitting in silence practice into your day and positively affect all you encounter.
Other Ways of Spending Time in Solitude
As noted above, there are other ways to spend time in solitude that differ from a meditative or prayerful model.
- 20 minutes of awesome – Colin Wright popularized this 20MA practice of spending 20 minutes in solitude just letting the brain do what it does best – generate thoughts and see where they go. The beauty of this practice is that is absolutely free of input from others. There are no earbuds, no music, and no other person competing for your attention. It’s time with your brain watching what it does best…freely associated and create thought paths for your conscious awareness to follow.
- journaling – writing in a daily journal or adding a journaling practice at the conclusion of your chosen mode of sitting in silence can be a valuable practice on its own and provide you with a personal historical record of your practice. Journaling is the same as keeping a diary and noting what you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s looking inward and reflecting on thoughts, ideas, and issues that you might not share with another. If you have a trust issue with another party—I had a relationship partner at one time who couldn’t stand that I wrote in a journal and demanded to see it—you might want to keep this journal somewhere it won’t be viewed by their prying eyes, maybe at the office or another place you are typically away from them. I’m not arguing for inserting a layer of secrecy into your relationship, rather one of respected privacy. I know from my own experience how pursuing solitude in this manner needs to be a private one. Your mileage may vary.
- gratitude – thinking about and sitting with all that you are grateful for in your life is also a great way to spend time with your thoughts about others, their impact on your life, and how you might be of service or help to them.
- walking – taking a long walk in nature or anywhere while free of anything but background noise; this allows you to be with your thoughts and actually frees portions of the brain for creative thinking. Thoreau, Emerson, Lincoln, and scores of other writers and thinkers could never have contributed so much to our society if they’d not been engaged in a practice of walking in the woods, through the countryside, and along community byways thereby spending quality time in solitude.
Following these simple guidelines, anyone can begin a daily and personally rewarding practice of sitting in silence and spending time in solitude.