Here's a question: when's the last time you were alone in your brain?
Here's another one: was it a comfortable experience?
When I say 'alone in your brain' I mean really, truly alone. Not only no other people, but no internet or phone. No book or movie or music to distract you. No input except looking at what's there, hearing the ambient noise. No goal-ended project to focus on. Just you, and your brain.
Since I've been dealing with severe anemia, I have not been able to safely hike alone. I've noticed that I miss the time with my brain. This isn't about 'too many people'. It's that the distractions never go away unless I deliberately leave them. The phone is there, with its little games. The internet beckons me with blogs and facebook and chat. Even offline, I'm surrounded by books, and radio stations playing catchy music. There's *manufactured content* everywhere for me to consume and I live in a world of active distraction, and unless I make a conscious effort, I'm never fully alone.
A lot of people ask me, "What's wrong with manufactured content?" They say, "I get inspiration all the time from things I read or hear on the radio or see on TV." And I agree that there's nothing wrong with it; it's just other people's brains. And when you're listening to other people's brains, working on other people's deadlines, you don't have much incentive to stop and listen to the voices in your own head.
You get a clarity, left to face those voices. You come to understand more about what you want and where you're going and who you are. You also have to face the big life truths out there in the brain-black, ask the big questions: Am I happy? Am I a good person? How can I be a better person? How can I navigate the experiences of my life without compromising who I need to be and what I want to become? If you establish a regular relationship with them, you develop a dialogue and an understanding, and you can really work through some serious growth. Intuition is based in being able to hear and respect those voices. So is inspiration. They represent your subconscious collating information you didn't even know you'd taken in and pulling together your *own* conclusions from it.
Meditation helps, but it's hard to meditate long enough to really achieve the flow and stillness of your own mind. Driving long distances without the radio is good, but not terribly environmentally sound. Even when I work out, I'm listening to an audiobook or watching the TV above the elliptical. I get a few minutes in the shower each morning, but I'm usually going over my day in my head and making lists. Most of the people I know only spend quality time with their brains at one time: when they're trying to fall asleep. I've been in that position lately, and I'm starting to notice that I'm having a little more trouble dropping off at night.
I suppose it makes a certain sense. Is it any wonder that your mind, shouted down all day with television and conversation and books and blogs and work, takes that moment when you're not quite tired enough to fall asleep, grabs you by the face, and drags you off to hear all the things it wants to say? You're a captive audience. And when I'm trying to fall asleep, I'm still not in a place where I can engage my brain constructively. I'm still trying to shut it down with my *own* worries and anxieties: If you do not let me go to sleep, brain, I will not wake up in time tomorrow and I will be late and groggy for work and the whole day will go badly.
I'm feeling much stronger now, and should be able to start heading back out for regular solo hikes. I'm looking forward to finding out what my brain's been doing without me this summer.