How much time do you give to be just with yourself? Why should you want to? 

For six mornings of the week members of Portland Japanese Garden have access to the Gardens for two hours before they open to the general public. The other morning I finally made it up there to benefit from this special privilege.

The silence and stillness on that summer’s morning, the sound of the birds singing and running water, the vividness of the views seen many times before, but being all the more precise with the absence of people.

Why, or why had I not made it up there earlier?

I can in part answer this for myself. Morning quiet time is important to me. Unless I know that I am getting up for an early meeting or to travel somewhere, I plan on starting the day away from busyness and noise. There is plenty of time for that during the day, and my introverted self starts better with a quiet, self-reflective boost before the day gets going. Secondly is my daily meditation practice which is a stable for me just like having breakfast, or the sleep that I have just woken up from. So walking to the car, a drive and walk up to the Gardens, and an uncertainty of just how busy that journey might be and how many conversations I could get drawn into along the way, tends me more to the assured quietness of home.

I was nudged out the front door yesterday morning by some busyness at home. The Japanese Garden seemed like a good second option. As I travelled further up the hill it became apparent just how quiet it was going to be. There were few people around, and beneath the trees was the stillness of a day just starting. On entering the Gardens I walked to find a place to practice Qigong, before moving down to the Rock Garden to meditate. The few people there moved around respectful of their fellow visitors’ space, speaking in hushed voices.

After an hour I headed for home, nourished not only by the silence but also the time spent in nature. The day was still ahead of me.

Returning to those two initially posed questions. How much time do you give to yourself each day? Time free from meetings, emails, other people, phones. And if you were to do so, what would be the benefit? Our over busy, multi-distracted lives aside from not being good for our health, can also lead to less productivity and less time checking in with ourselves. The multitaskers are praised and celebrated, but time spent continually switching between jobs and worrying about what the next distraction coming down the pipe might be, all means less concentration and focus on the current job in hand and with those whom we are working with.

In our run around what is driving us - our fears, concerns, habits and reactions, or our clear thought through ideas? Time spent with ourselves is a “STOP” in the middle of the freneticism. It allows the dust of busyness to settle and what we are really feeling to rise more to the surface - is our body telling us we need to rest, are we really happy with the suggestions being made, would we prefer more time to think through this solution? More time spent in this space starts to change the habits of where we work from. Familiarity here does not breed contempt but a knowing of who we are and how we react to different situations. In the long term the result becomes us catching ourselves more quickly when we find ourselves simply reacting as opposed to coming from our heart.

Quiet Time

So what might this alone time look like? Here is a suggestion. Not a full blown, formal mindfulness meditation session, though the essence of it is here.

Early morning is a good time to give yourself some quiet time. You are fresh from the stillness of your night’s sleep. The day is still as the world wakes up. Before your reach for your smart phone, checkin on the news or your email, schedule ten minutes to be alone with yourself. Find a comfortable chair, or if you like sit on the floor. The important thing is to have a straight back. This allows the mind to stay fresh and alert.

Now as you sit there, just be aware of what is arising for you in those moments. What is arising in your mind? What sensations are there in your body? There is no judgement in what arises, just observation. Be like an usher collecting tickets at the theatre. You see the people walk up to you, and then they are gone. If you catch yourself getting involved in a conversation with your observations, without judgement let that go and return to the observing. If this is not something that you are use to doing, ten minutes alone could feel like an age, but stick with it.

During the day it can be helpful to reinforce the habit of mindfulness that you were observing in the morning. Look for opportunities to remind you to come back to yourself for as little as a few seconds. Here are some suggestions:

  • A telephone ringing - don’t just reach for it, take a deep breath, feel your presence in the chair and then answer the phone.
  • The brake lights of the car in front of you.
  • A stop light.
  • Try driving without the radio on or music playing.
  • Standing in line for food or a drink. If you are by yourself, don’t check your phone but be aware of your breathing. Deepen your breath. Be aware of your feet on the ground.
  • If you are eating by yourself, don’t eat and read. Just be aware of yourself eating. The chewing of the food, the texture of the food, swallowing the food.
  • When walking walk mindfully, staying aware of yourself walking. Use your breath, or the stepping of your feet as an anchor to keep yourself focused. I have written on this here.

So why should you want to give time to yourself? For you own well being, but also for the benefit of your work and those with whom you work and live. You’ll start to catch yourself being distracted, working off autopilot and find the space to stop and better consider the situation that has presented itself to you. You will start to find space where at first there appeared to be none.