How to best use a period of solitude to heal
October 4, 2010 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm hurting after a breakup, and am lucky enough to be leaving tomorrow for just over two weeks on Salt Spring Island. For about half that time, I will be alone and mostly isolated. How can I best use this period of solitude to reflect, refresh and heal myself?

My first relationship ended about 2 months ago. We got engaged on our 5th anniversary early this year, but it's turned out it was not to be. The breakup was hard, but we both knew it had to happen and I think we did a good job with it. I accept the end of it, at least intellectually, and I am excited for the freedom, the opportunities it will bring, and the chance to focus on myself and my own needs. Emotionally however I'm still raw and bleeding.

My parents live out on Salt Spring, and I've happily been able to work it out with them and my employer to get out there for just over two weeks starting tomorrow. The last week of this my parents will be gone, so I will be alone in their place. It's beautiful, although people live around you can see nothing man-made, just trees and water and the lights of Vancouver way off. Very peaceful.

I'm introverted, so have always drawn strength from being alone, but have never been isolated for this long. How can I best use this time to re-center myself, and start to become okay with being on my own for an indeterminate span of the future?

Specific factors: I don't drive and the place is isolated, so barring the occasional ride into town from a neighbour, I am truly alone and pretty much confined to the house and some surrounding woodsy areas. I have no experience with meditation but see this as a good chance to start. My mother has lots of art supplies, so creating may be an option, although little experience there as well. Will have all the modern technical wonders, laptop, internet, movies, etc., but don't just want to spend a week online, I could do that at home.

posted by yellowbinder to Human Relations (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Meditate for 45 minutes a day. I suggest Shamatha-Vipassna. Put 25% of your attention on the breath. When you have a thought, note it by thinking the word "thinking" and return to watching your in and out breaths.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:37 AM on October 4, 2010

Exercise outdoors every day - take loooong walks or go for a run. If you've not run much before try a short, gentle jog or switch between running and walking to raise your heart rate. Good for the soul as well as the body.
posted by penguin pie at 11:43 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do you enjoy cooking or baking? Choose a few recipes to try. Personally, I'd plan to bake a bread like this one day. There's points where you get to work and knead the bread and stuff, and then there's periods of waiting for the bread to rise before you get to punch it back down again. It's comforting, slow-paced work and makes the house smell good and tastes delicious.
posted by juliplease at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2010

Get a bunch of pencils and a sketchbook and draw anything in front of you that you like. Doesn't really matter that you don't have experience, you can start here. Start with general shapes and go more and more into detail as the drawing progresses. Drawing regularly, you will improve as you go. I wouldn't even bother with instruction at this point, just learn from your own drawing experiences. Maybe after your vacation you could look into classes to further your skills, but give it a good shot first. My mom's been an art teacher for over 20 years, this is what she'd say to you.
posted by lizbunny at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2010

Lots of time outside. Mary Austin writes of The Walking Woman, who after a major loss took to walking miles and miles until she was "sobered and healed at last by the large soundness of nature."
posted by salvia at 11:47 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

DEFINATELY exercise outside.

Go do push ups, long walks, climb some trees. Not only is exercise a powerful natural anti-depressant, but spending some time alone in nature getting in touch with your body and movement may help you get your head wrapped around your new situation and where it takes you from here when you come back.

My sympathies.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:49 AM on October 4, 2010

Bring some rain boats and a rain coat and go for very long walks. It will be so beautiful!
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:06 PM on October 4, 2010


Many of us are chronically deprived of sleep. If you usually short change yourself a hour (or more) of sleep each day, then use the time to really get rested.
posted by 26.2 at 12:14 PM on October 4, 2010

Kind of echoing what everyone else has said, do things that are for you. Read old favorite books, take a bubble bath, go for a ramble in the woods, call your girlfriends, eat Doritos, just do, unapologetically, whatever it is that will make you feel better.

I find that it helps to tell myself it's ok to think about it. Keeping your mind off the situation is all well and good, but sometimes it helps to just say, yes, this happened and it's ok to grieve for a while even if I know I did make the right decision.

Best wishes.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:37 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of great things said by the group here! My own experience: I had been (too old now) a runner for many years. I found that going for my daily runs always relaxed me and got me into a good place no matter what the bad thing was I had confronted recently. Worked like a charm.
Do not get into drinking. If not a runner, the walking suggestions here a good thing to do. Meditation always useful and helpful.
posted by Postroad at 12:44 PM on October 4, 2010

Along with the idea to draw, journal. Journal about who you are now, who you want to be, what it means for you to be out of that relationship, what it's like to be out in this place by yourself, what you want to do in the next year... basically, spend the solitude sorting through your thoughts and feelings and goals, but in a written form so you can reflect back on them if need be. Also, sleep and exercise!
posted by ldthomps at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Beaches are great places to focus on ebb and flow and continuity and change and your place in the grand scheme of things, and the Gulf Islands have some very special beaches. You can look hard at the things around you, paying attention to details on shells and rocks and arbutus trees, or you can look softly and just get absorbed into the wind and waves and your general surroundings.
posted by holgate at 12:59 PM on October 4, 2010

I would recommend a book to take with you, if you have the time to get it (and it is widely available) - Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. You can find excerpts here.
posted by gudrun at 1:34 PM on October 4, 2010

long walks with a camera and take lots of beautiful pictures
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:45 PM on October 4, 2010

Painting and photography are wonderfully relaxing solo hobbies.
posted by meepmeow at 2:53 PM on October 4, 2010

I lived on Salt Sping Island a long time ago. It's a beautiful place, and, I should think, a perfect place to mend.

Echoing others, put yourself in Nature's way. The more you look, the more you see. And the more you see, and comtemplate, the more you are lifted to thoughts larger than your condition.

The book I took with me when I had a month to myself in rural Ontario was the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Spend 30 minutes with her 15 minutes before and after a walk/run, and I guarantee you'll find yourself sorting out what matters and what doesn't. In a good way.

Not incidentally, she knew emotional anguish, too. The Master Letters is a revelation for anyone who thinks Dickinson was a housebound recluse.

Finally, if you're unfamiliar with Dickinson, I would suggest skipping the early stuff and starting with the so-called Flood Years, 1861-1895, when she was most productive. Which period includes her "Master" preoccupation." (See Split the Lark.)

Best wishes to you.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:49 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

First of all, I am so very sorry for your loss, yellowbinder. It hurts to break up, and I think you are doing the right thing to take some time out to heal, and be by yourself.

A number of times, over the past few years, I've gone to a place of solitude for a few weeks. I do this to strengthen myself, to get back in touch with the little voice in me that becomes quiet when there's too much activity around me. Like you, I favour the islands - and in particular, the west coast of Vancouver island. I've spent up to two weeks in Ucluelet, in a house that I like to rent, just being there - walking to the lighthouse, walking to the sea, or just walking in the trails in the rain forest..

I recently spent two weeks in Iceland by myself, driving around the country. I wrote my diary. A lot. I bought a two-pack of the very thin Moleskines at the book warehouse, and brought these along. Filled them both. I also spent a lot of time stopped by the side of the road, looking at the sea. And just breathing.

Although there was no recent breakup in my past, I wanted to go to Iceland as a metaphor for pushing the Reset button. Relax. Be with my thoughts. Think - or keep an empty head, and empty heart. And see what good stuff they fill up with, while I am away from home.

I walked on forest paths. Or sat by a lake and gazed at the other side. I watched the bend in the road that I was quietly walking on, and wondered what I would see once I would get to the corner. I deliberately walked slower. I listened to my body.

I had a serene time. Now I was driving around a place I had never visited - and that had its charms. But even when I retreat to Ucluelet and stay in a house for a week (ostensibly working on a textbook for one of the classes I teach) I love this feeling of connected separatedness. Being able to go online, but choosing instead of being with myself. And during the day, walking the trails to the ocean, watching the waves dance with the cliffs.

On the topic of internet - I would spend a maximum of an hour a day online, and the rest of my time was spent deliberately away from the internet. I ate well. I brought with me some little treats - a favourite ice cream, a beloved chocolate bar flavor, the fixings for a favourite dish. Deliberately no alcohol or even caffeine - I wanted to give my body full rest. And I slept deeply.

So what happened? In all cases, I came back recharged, refocused.

May the Saltspring getaway do well for you, too. And if you do get a little restless, can you take a bike into Vesuvius or Ganges for a quick small-town getaway? Sometimes, in the middle of one's retreat, it's also nice to check in with the surrounding people.

Be well --
posted by seawallrunner at 7:18 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Lots of great ideas, thank you!

Leaving in a few hours, and excited! Since I was at work tonight, I couldn't pick up any of your specific recommended books, but I'm bringing along some favourites and plan to see what takes my fancy in the local establishments.

Thanks seawallrunner for reminding me that my parents recently retrieved their bikes from Toronto. I should be able to use one of them, will definitely help! The house is up on a hill, so a bit of a trek for towns and beaches, but with a bike both should be easily accessible!
posted by yellowbinder at 12:27 AM on October 5, 2010

There are some great ideas here. Emily Dickinson is an inspired choice. Definitely try to track her down if it's not too late.

Maybe it's just me, but when I'm dealing with a period of heavy emotional unheaval and stress, writing it all out is incredibly useful. So I'm going to throw my weight behind the journalling idea, too.

Perhaps it's because I'm a writer, but I sometimes don't even fully understand how I feel about things until I've written them out. Write whatever you need about the breakup, but also get down your general thoughts, impressions, feelings, senses of the place around you. What I would say is try to do it in an actual notebook rather than on a laptop - there's something about the simple physical act of writing I find therapeutic in itself.
posted by Ted Maul at 1:41 AM on October 5, 2010

Exercise - hike, walk, run - do you have a bike? Bring your bike if you do. Exercise will clear your head.

Rest, sleep, be lazy and allow yourself to just crash.

Bring a journal and write. Sketch, read.

Do something stimulating too - cook, go birdwatching, pitch a tent and sleep in it, go swimming if you can - do something new that is a small deviation from what you'd normally do. Most importantly, just disconnect yourself, unplug and decompress.
posted by floweredfish at 6:24 AM on October 7, 2010

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