I recently went on a bit of a solo retreat and digital detox in the Sussex countryside. One of this blog’s readers asked me to write an article on it so here it is.
I have spent quite a lot of time alone in the past although it has never been with such a clear intention of spending time meditating.
I expected, for some reason, to be able to meditate quite clearly and calmly from day one. Almost the opposite happened. My compulsive trains of thought seemed to go into overtime for the first two days. I wasn’t quite alone as there was a dog with me and of course, I found myself talking to the dog. This may seem daft to people that have not spent time alone with pets but for the rest of us it seems perfectly normal. It’s when they start talking back that it starts to become a problem.
I don’t think that the quality of the mental chatter was anything different to how it is normally. I think that the silence of the environment might just seem to make it appear more incessant and noisier.
It is interesting that it took me a couple of days to get to clarity of mind that I wanted. I didn’t spend all day alone. Every morning and evening I took the dog for a walk and in the process met some of the locals though my longest conversation all the time that I was alone there, was about 15 or 20 minutes chatting to a local farmer.
On the third day I achieved, at around mid-morning, the level of clarity of mind that I had hoped I would have from the start. This was an interesting and quite revelatory feeling of clarity. I found I was actually being extremely productive. I had brought some work with me, quite creative work, and rather hoped I would be able to complete it on my retreat. I completed what I expected to do. I also did a lot of reading. I read “The feeling of what happens” by Antonio Damasio. This was the second time that I had read it, but the quality of the information that I extracted this time was more useful and insightful.
From that point on, I felt very calm until the end of the retreat. I can understand why authors hide away alone to write.
As to my meditation experience, I don’t think I actually meditated for much longer than I do on a normal day, but the feeling of mindfulness most definitely extended throughout the entire day. I suppose that that’s simply because its other people that are likely to collapse a mindful state more than anything else and so with an absence of people I was able to stay mindful. In a way, I can see why Indian swamis go and sit in a cave for many years, though I have no intention of trying it myself!
I would say though that every meditation session after the first couple of days was successful. I wouldn’t say that my meditations were deeper, but there was no restlessness of any kind and my mind was relatively silent.
I will most definitely do some more solo retreats whenever possible. As to the digital detox, it’s a great way of resetting for the crazy day-to-day existence and reminds you that actually we don’t really need to be plugged in all the time.