When you find yourself alone, do you fill that time with some form of activity such as checking your text messages or emails, engaging in social media, surfing the Internet, or chatting with a friend?
It’s hard to not do anything as we are so accustomed to always be doing something. But it’s important to take some quiet time every day to be all by yourself and simply watch your mind.
The term for it is introspection. In this practice, you allow the thoughts to come up and become aware of them. It will give you an idea what your mind is made of, and through that knowing, clarity about how you really are living your life.
Introspection can be scary because you will come face to face with your own weaknesses and faults. But unless you are aware of them, no change can come in your life.
That’s why this simple practice has the potential to change your life
How spending time alone changed one man’s life
My guru, Swami Chinmayananda once told a story about the transformational effects of spending time in solitude.
There was once a great spiritual master who lived in a little hut outside a village in India. He was well loved for his kind, gentle and cheerful nature. He was always ready to answer the questions of spiritual seekers and gave them guidance for their lives.
A young man used to take some fruit and food as offerings for the master regularly. Whenever he went, he would bring Sameer, his little son along. The boy used to enjoy his visits because the master gave him a lot of attention and made him laugh.
Over the years, Sameer visited the master an innumerable number of times. When he grew up, he went to college in the city.
Coming from a small village, he was anxious to fit in with the other city boys.
Very soon, he made friends with a boisterous gang of boys who wore the latest fashion, smoked, drank and went out late at night.
Sameer happily joined in and took up all the same bad habits. His studies started to suffer but he didn’t seem to care. Soon, he became arrogant and rude.
When he went back home for the holidays that year, he behaved badly with his family. He was short-tempered and easily irritated by every small thing. Having tasted the fast city life, he looked down on his parents’ simple ways.
His parents were alarmed at his grades, behaviour and smoking. They pleaded with him to change his ways and focus on his studies. But he brushed them aside.
After a couple of weeks, his father somehow convinced him to accompany him on a visit to the spiritual master. The father secretly hoped that the master would be able to bring his son back on track.
Sameer guessed what his father’s motives were, and he told him, “I know what you’re up to. No matter what the master tells me, I’m not going to change.” The father silently nodded his head, grateful that he had at least agreed to go.
When they arrived at the master’s hut, the father respectfully prostrated at the master’s feet, waiting for his son to do the same. But Sameer only stood there and feigned a half-smile.
Seeing them, the master immediately understood what was going on. He smiled, walked cheerfully toward Sameer, hugged him and said, ”Sameer! It’s great to see you!”
Looking at his stylish new hair and fashionably torn jeans, he commented, ”Hey! You look so handsome!”
Sameer was taken aback as he wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome. He thought the master would be angry for not showing him respect and would reprimand him for his new looks.
The master struck up a cheerful conversation, asking Sameer about life in the city and politics. Sameer was surprised that the master knew about the current affairs in the country.
Soon, he began to relax and enjoy himself.
Finally, after about an hour, the master said, “Sameer, your father told me that he was concerned about you and how your studies are suffering.”
“Yes,” said Sameer, “All unnecessary worries. I’m fine.”
“Well obviously things are not fine as far as your father is concerned. Will you do something for me?”
“What?” Sameer asked defensively.
“For the next two weeks, while you are home for the holidays, will you please wake up early—5 a.m. and then go for a walk?”
“What!! 5 a.m.? Why?” Sameer asked.
“Well, I think that you will enjoy the quiet time and it’ll be good for you to let off some steam,” said the master.
“What exactly do you want me to do?” asked Sameer.
The master replied,” Set your alarm clock to wake you up at 5 a.m. Get out of bed and walk to the nearby park. That’ll take you five minutes. Sit on a bench and relax for 20 minutes. Then get up and walk back—thirty minutes in total. That’s all. Then you can get back into bed and sleep for as long as you want.”
Seeing the hesitation in Sameer, the master added, “Do it for me, won’t you?” he asked, with a soft smile and loving eyes.
Not seeing the harm in it, Sameer hesitatingly agreed, “Er…okay…” and then quickly added, “But only if you tell my father to get off my back!”
Not waiting for the master to ask him, the father readily agreed. He had full faith that the master knew what was best for Sameer.
The transformation begins
The very next morning, the loud ring of the alarm clock woke Sameer abruptly from his sleep. Remembering his promise, he dragged himself out of bed, changed out of his pajamas and went out of the house.
He walked quietly to the park and sat down on a bench underneath a lamp by a huge tree.
He looked around… The moon was still visible in the sky and the leaves above him rustled in the soft, cool breeze. He heard the sounds of the early birds chirruping and the crickets in the bushes nearby.
He had never done something like this before and found it refreshing and enjoyable. After 20 minutes, he got up and walked back home and went to sleep.
In this way, he went to the park daily and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere.
After a week, he had gotten familiar with the different elements in the peaceful surroundings. He didn’t feel the need to look around anymore. With nothing to distract his attention, his mind became quiet.
One day, he found his attention moving inwards to his life. He remembered his childhood and the happy times spent playing simple games with the other village children. He remembered with great fondness, his meetings with the master and the loving up-bringing of his parents.
As he continued to come to the park bench daily, his thoughts went to his current lifestyle in college. He thought of his unruly friends and their pranks. He thought about the late nights, drinking, clubbing, smoking and undone school assignments.
He suddenly realized that while trying to fit in, he had gone against the values that he was brought up with. This wasn’t the real Sameer. In fact, he didn’t like the new Sameer at all.
In that instant, he resolved to mend his ways. He would find new friends, drop his bad habits and start focusing on his studies. His parents had sacrificed a lot to raise and support him. He owed it to them, and to himself, to put in his very best at school.
In just two weeks of spending time alone, Sameer had re-set his life. It had given him the clarity to reevaluate his priorities and led him on the path to his own higher good.
Self-awareness is the key
Spending time alone in introspection brings self-awareness, which is the key to inner transformation.
People may advise or criticize you for years, but until you see the real you and your life, you will have no motivation to change yourself.
In the video below, you can watch my Guru, Swami Chinmayananda explain the transformational effects of self-awareness that comes from spending time spent alone.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy his humour and be able to relate to the everyday examples that he gives.
Values of life: 17–Solitude-2 (Bhagavad Geeta, Chapter 13 Verse 11)
ChinmayaChannel, permission to use authorised by Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
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So My take-away from reading this article is this:
1) Being alone is the time where you can reflect on yourself, what you do, who you are, etc
2) Being alone makes you introspect your strengths, weaknesses, and what you have to change
3) Being alone makes you develop the art of a concentrated mind from a scattered mind (meditation)
4) Being alone makes you more self-aware on what makes you happy/upset, and what is real and not real
This article speaks because I have lived alone for almost 15 years. I’m still a work in progress adjusting to this.
My question is, where do the loneliness feelings come from? Is that from feelings of inadequacy? That we are not enough?
Smita, Your question about where do feelings of loneliness come from is a great one. You obviously have had a lot of time to introspect, living alone as you do.
Sometimes, we are too close to the problem to see the solution.
My understanding is that feelings of loneliness come from wanting and waiting for the world to fulfill our desires in very specific ways.
For instance, a mother whose daughter has left the nest may feel lonely and depressed. Even though she wants to see her daughter succeed and do well in her studies, her heart still yearns for her presence.
Even if the mother has friends and other family members around, the lonely feelings don’t go because she feels that only her daughter can make her happy again.
This is being attached to the erroneous notion that her daughter is the source of her happiness.
Instead of waiting for something that cannot be changed, (her daughter growing up and going away) the mother can begin fulfilling her own life by living from feelings of gratitude for what she has.
In other words, instead of focusing on what she doesn’t have, she can focus on what she does have. Then, she can begin fulfilling her own life by the blessed practice of giving.
She can give her time, talents and skills and money to others. The more she focuses on her blessings and gives from a sense of gratitude, the more blessed and abundant she will feel. Her feelings of loneliness and emptiness will naturally go away.
I think you can relate to this example.
So Smita, you find that you are attached to feelings that don’t serve your highest good and you can’t seem to let them go because the desire Is so strong, please pray and surrender them to God. This is the best way to overcome all difficulties in life.
I hope this helps. I wish you great happiness.
It sure does! Thank you so much! :)
Great!! I’m glad it helps.
Beautifully explained Manisha to Smita. I just want to add to what you have said :
Yes one needs to focus and be grateful for that which is with you, namely children, family friends and to give of ourself to the under previliged, this involvement automatically takes care of Lonliness
A good habit always is to surrender the day to the Lord 1st thing in the morning.
With Love & Light Sapna
Hello Sapna, Yes, thanks for the important tip—to surrender the day to God the first thing in the morning. This will divinize all your actions and thoughts.Lovely.
After I read this article and watched the video I felt like a window opened in my mind…
The story of the boy helped by making the process of introspection more relatable and accessible to anyone who wants to make true change in their life.
Thank you Manisha for always providing the most inspirational newsletters.
I look forward to your next one!
Thank you so much! You’re absolutely right..the story of the young man and the little stories told by Swami Chinmayananda in the video make the lessons vivid, relatable and memorable.