Being alone can change your life? Picturing someone who is lonely and sad, you may ask,” What’s so good about that? If there’s any change that happens from being alone, it would probably be a change for the worse, wouldn’t it?”
Not necessarily . . .
Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely and sad. What I’m talking about is having a spiritual practice of taking some time away from your day to be in solitude.
What to do when you’re alone
When you find yourself alone, do you fill that time with some form of activity such as picking up your cell phone or going on your computer and checking your messages, going on social media, surfing the Internet, listening to some music, or chatting with a friend?
It’s hard to not do anything. It can feel uncomfortable or boring. But that’s exactly what is called for—to not keep your mind busy doing something, but rather, to sit and simply watch your mind.
The term for it is introspection. In introspection, you become aware of what you are thinking about.
This is different from watching your thoughts in meditation. In meditation you are asked to allow the thoughts to come up and die away on their own by your non-involvement in them.
Introspection can be scary because 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. You will come face to face with your own weaknesses and faults.
This is a good thing because unless you are aware of them, no change can come in your life.This is why this simple practice has the potential to change your life
How spending time alone changed one man’s life
Many years ago, one of my teachers told us 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 aspirants and gave them guidance for their lives.
A young man used to take some fruit and food as offerings for the master regularly and whenever he went, he would bring Rahul, 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, Rahul 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.
Rahul 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.
Rahul 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 Rahul only stood there and feigned a half-smile.
Seeing them, the master immediately understood what was going on. He smiled, walked cheerfully toward Rahul, hugged him and said, ”Rahul! It’s great to see you!”
Looking at his stylish new hair and fashionably torn jeans, he commented, ”Hey! You look so handsome!”
Rahul 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 Rahul about life in the city and politics. Rahul 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, “Rahul, your father told me that he was concerned about you and how your studies are suffering.”
“Yes,” said Rahul, “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?” Rahul asked defensively.
“For the next two weeks, while you are home for the holidays, will you please wake up early—4 am and then go for a walk?”
“What!! 4 am? Why?” Rahul 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 Rahul.
The master replied,” Set your alarm clock to wake you up at 4 am. Get out of bed and walk to the nearby park. That’ll take you ten minutes. Sit on a bench and relax for 20 minutes. Then get up and walk back—forty 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 Rahul, 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, Rahul 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 Rahul
The transformation begins
The very next morning, the loud ring of the alarm clock woke Rahul 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.
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.
In the next few days, 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 Rahul. In fact, he didn’t like the new Rahul at all.
In that instant, he resolved to mend his ways. He would find new friends, drop his bad habits and 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, Rahul 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 and admonish 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 humor 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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